Why 30 UN Countries Just Accused Australia Of Human Rights Violations

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Australia has been called out by more than 30 countries for our treatment of First Nations Peoples. 

The UN members slammed Australia for our high rate of Indigenous incarceration and said the age of criminal responsibility needs to be raised from 10 to 14 years of age.

But will this be the watershed moment Australia needs?  

Australia’s Rate Of Indigenous Incarceration Is Shameful 

In 2018, First Nations Peoples made up 28% of the national prison population. 

The total Indigenous population in Australia at the time was 2% 

It’s particularly egregious when you look at the kids in juvenile detention 

Right now in Australia, kids as young as 10 can be (and are) prosecuted and put into juvenile detention 

First Nations kids make up 54% of the juvenile detention population, even though they only account for 6% of all kids in Australia between 10 and 17 years old.  

Prisons Harm Kids For Life

Roxanne Moore, National Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Legal ServiceNo child belongs in prison and we know that prisons don’t work and they, in fact really harm kids for life. [Prison] can do lifelong damage in terms of mental health and development and we know that the younger that a child is imprisoned, the more likely they are to return to prison as an aduland really get stuck in that quicksand of the justice system. 

We’ve seen the horrors of youth prison in Australia. We’ve seen DoDale [Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory], children being gassed and hooded, the torture and abuse that children experience, the solitary confinement and isolation of children for over 300 days in Western Australia. We’ve seen hog tying and sedating of children and using dogs on them in youth prisons in Queensland. This is happening right around the country.” 

Why Is Our Justice System So Broken?

The UN Human Rights Council does this progress review every five years or so, and this is not the first time that Australia has been called out on an international stage for its Indigenous incarceration rate.  

In fact, we heard pretty much the same criticism in the last periodic review back in 2015.  

And in some form, the UN’s Human Rights Committee have taken a swipe at Australia for the same problem every year since.  

The Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Western Australia have all introduced initiatives to reduce the rate of Indigenous incarceration in their jurisdictions 

But so far, no state or territory other than the ACT and the NT have committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility, and neither of those states have actually changed it yet.  

We Need The Government To Take Immediate Action

Last year, the council of state Attorneys-General deferred making a decision on raising the age for at least 12 months.  

NSW’s Attorney-General said that decision making was deferred because states don’t have an alternative yet for what to do with kids who cross paths with the law – which is kind of ridiculous because solutions have been outlined throughout years of enquiries.  

RM: We need to look at the way that children are targeted, particularly First Nations kids. And we need to look at all of the incredible Aboriginalled solutions which really work here in this country. It’s about making sure that our kids are connected with country, culture and community and not having our kids pushed into the justice system through racism and disadvantagethrough overpolicing  through situations that are connected to entrenched poverty – which is the legacy of colonisation in this country.”   

Roxanne told me that in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter movement and especially around January 26th, Australia needs to seriously face up to the reality that violent colonisation is ongoing in this country. 

RM: January 26th – Invasion day – is not a day to celebrate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and for everyone in this country. It’s a day where we need to reflect. It’s a day of mourning. It’s a day that we need to grapple with the truth of our history but also its legacy of colonisation and how that lives on  we need the Australian government to take action immediately to end these injustices for our people. 

The Takeaway 

Australia has managed to ignore our shamefully high rate of Indigenous incarceration for too long.  

This is a human rights issue that we’re now being loudly called out for on an international stage. It defines us. It’s a major part of our global reputation. It’s tearing First Nations communities apart, and on Invasion Day (of all days) we need to reflect on it. We can’t end injustices that we continue to ignore.