Governments must act on UN report criticising Australia’s record on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human rights

MEDIA RELEASE - 19 September 2017


“Australian governments should immediately adopt all recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who described the extraordinarily high rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially women and children, as ‘a major human rights concern’ and described the high rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as ‘a disturbing pattern’,” said the Co-Chairs of the Change the Record Coalition, Ms Antoinette Braybrook and Ms Cheryl Axleby.

The Special Rapporteur, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, is tabling the report with the UN Human Rights Council tomorrow, 20th September.

Ms Axleby said “It is unacceptable and disturbing that we still have such high levels of social disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. This is some of the strongest language we have ever seen from the UN on Australia’s human rights record.”

Ms Tauli-Corpuz’s highlights that despite having enjoyed over two decades of economic growth, Australia’s human rights record is “woefully inadequate” that, “Australia has not been able to improve the social disadvantage of its indigenous population.”

The Special Rapporteur reported that the routine detention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was “the most distressing aspect of her visit” and she was shocked by the imprisonment of Indigenous children for minor offences and their “punitive” treatment by authorities. Ms Tauli Corpuz was “alarmed” to find child prisoners who saw no future prospects. “Children should be detained only as a last resort, which certainly is not the case today for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”

“Australian governments are failing to uphold children’s human rights. We need to urgently adopt the recommendations on the Rights of the Child and increase the age of criminal responsibility to at least 12 years, and implement measures to prevent youth detention” said Ms Axleby

Ms Tauli-Corpuz calls on the Federal Government to take urgent action to reduce the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In a clear call for change, the report states: “it is the responsibility of the federal Government to ensure compliance with international human rights obligations. The inclusion of targets on justice in the “Closing the Gap” strategy and the development and implementation of a national plan of action are needed to address the incarceration crisis.”

The alarming rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is also addressed in the report, with a call on governments to implement national targets to reduce violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. “Discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women on the grounds of gender, race and class is structurally and institutionally entrenched. This discrimination, coupled with the lack of culturally appropriate measures to address the issue, fosters a disturbing pattern of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women” the report says.

The disproportionate rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women contributes to the disadvantages experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have experienced family violence. “Aboriginal women and girls are the fastest growing prison population across the country. As pointed out by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences during her visit to Australia in February 2017, many incarcerated women and girls have been the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse,” the report states.

Antoinette Braybrook, Co-Chair of the Change the Record Coalition, said, “Federal, State and Territory ministers need to develop a strategy to reduce the high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, at the next COAG meeting in December this year. This must involve setting national targets, a response strongly supported by the Special Rapporteur.”

The report supports implementing the Change the Record Blueprint for Change: “The “Change the Record” coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and civil society organizations has provided an excellent blueprint of recommendations for concrete measures that would provide swift improvements of detention conditions.”

The Change the Record Coalition urges the Prime Minister and Federal Government to implement the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations without delay, including adopting the Blueprint for Change. It further urges the government to act on its obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by initiating a process to implement the Declaration.

Amnesty International Australia and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services are holding an event in Geneva today, with Ms Tauli-Corpuz as a guest speaker, to highlight the pressing need for governments to take action.

 

For interviews with the Change the Record Campaign Co-Chairs Antoinette Braybrook or Cheryl Axleby, contact Rashmi Kumar, 0409 711 061.