Australia Just Got Rubbished By North Korea, Iran, Pretty Much Everyone On The UN Human Rights Council

Can't say we haven't deserved it.

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A few weeks ago, Australia officially announced its bid for a spot on the UN Human Rights Council with a bold speech from Attorney-General George Brandis. I say ‘bold’ because it was full of all the usual grand political rhetoric and projected a noble vision of our great nation. “Across the entire panoply of human rights, Australia has not only been an activist, but those rights are integral to what we Australians regard as our sense of nationhood,” he said.

The speech was ‘bold’ for another reason, too: it came during a year in which the UN outright accused us of violating the convention against torture in our treatment of asylum seekers; our former Prime Minister told them to stop “lecturing” us; and Brandis himself went head-on with the President of the Human Rights Commission when she suggested the government should think twice before indefinitely locking up children who are employing their legal right to seek asylum.

“[We are] one of the world’s most rights-respecting, one of the world’s most tolerant and one of the world’s most generous nations,” Brandis said, while presumably cramming images like this deep down into that dark place he’ll some day try to reconnect with in therapy:


Submission from The Forgotten Children report, by an unnamed young detainee on Nauru.

And now it seems like the UN have held us to account on this standard.

Yesterday, the current representatives of the body’s Human Rights Council met in Geneva to conduct Australia’s regular four-yearly review. And during a three-house session — undoubtedly made more stressful by our upcoming bid for a place at the table — dozens of countries passionately denounced our treatment of asylum seekers, and our broader policy around border control.

Though the full report of proceedings is due to be released on Thursday, journalists from both the ABC and Sydney Morning Herald have attested to the absolute bollocking we reportedly received.

Here’s a little run-down:

  • The Council’s US delegate encouraged Australia to “enter humane treatment and respect for the human rights of asylum seekers”, particularly in offshore facilities.
  • The UK said we should be listening to the recommendations the UN dealt us last time around.
  • Sweden called us out as the only country to employ offshore processing and denounced mandatory detention.
  • Norway expressed concern about the conditions of these facilities.
  • Turkey took particular issue with our treatment of women and children.
  • France urged us to develop more humane alternatives.
  • Germany asked we “remove children and their families, and other individuals at risk — in particular survivors of torture and trauma — from immigration detention centres”.
  • Bangladesh said we “set a poor benchmark” and expressed further worry about firsthand reports of Islamophobia.
  • China said we needed to safeguard these people’s human rights.
  • Russia wants our government to listen to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
  • Iran expressed “deep concern” about mandatory detention.
  • North Korea said it was “seriously concerned at continued maltreatment of and violence against [our] refugees and asylum seekers”.

…North Korea.

Hi! Just practicing some good human rights!

Australian delegates in the room defended our nation’s current policies. Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock claimed boat turnbacks were a necessary measure to save lives at sea and noted the number of children in immigration detention was in fact already on the decline; according to Immigration Department estimates the number sits at around 113 down from nearly 2,000 just two years prior. That’s not nothing. And despite its inherent problems, there’s been recent encouraging change in the re-classification of Nauru as an “open centre”. But it’s also not enough to excuse the larger problems.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen a Somali refugee who claims she was raped turn to public begging in order to access an abortion under our government’s care. We’ve seen an asylum seeker living on a bridging visa set himself on fire due to fear of being sent home to Afghanistan, and another Iranian asylum seeker commit suicide at Brisbane airport. In the past few days, our facility at Christmas Island has also been reportedly sent into lockdown amid riots following the death of an attempted escapee. Until all that stops, we probably deserve all the public shaming we can get.