Joining the likes of Nigeria, Syria and Egypt, Australia has made the top of the list on the Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2015 due to our “vague” and “over-broad” counterterrorism laws which were hastily introduced by the Abbott government last year.
The report slams the Australian government, claiming it is infringing on the basic rights of all Australians.
In response to the threat of home-grown terrorism, new laws extend to the use of control orders and preventative detention and also make it a criminal offence to travel to “declared areas” abroad, which according to the report, “overly restricts people’s freedom of movement.”
“Draconian counterterrorism laws undermining free speech are causing incalculable damage to Australia’s international standing as a rights-respecting country,” warns Australian director of HRW Elaine Pearson.
“The government rammed these measures through parliament despite their having lasting consequences on Australians’ civil liberties.”
“These are excessive restrictions on freedom of speech, so a whole range of peaceful conduct can be prosecuted under these laws — something that affects the civil liberties of all Australians.”
The 656-page report is comprised of on-the-ground research of human rights practices in more than 90 countries and detailed, amongst other things, Australia’s approach to refugees and asylum seekers, as well as the treatment of Indigenous Australians.
The report included the United Nations Human Rights Commission finding that Australia had committed 143 human rights violations by indefinitely detaining refugees, its continued practice of mandatory detention, and the agreement Australia reached with PNG over a detention centre being built on Manus Island.
This year’s report is not surprisingly different from last year’s, with the same issues being addressed. The report functions by cataloguing questionable human rights practices, emerging trends, as well as violations committed within a year by each country investigated.
The 2015 report also stated the violations against Australians with disabilities, noting that “Forty-five percent of people with disabilities live near or below the poverty line. People with disabilities are also disproportionately at risk of violence in the community and in institutional settings, and are more likely to be jailed.”
In 2014’s report, the research into Australia’s treatment of disabled people revealed that how, under certain conditions, Australian law still allowed “women and girls with disabilities to be involuntarily sterilized”, and how “shackles and restraints are often still used on people with mental disabilities, sometimes because of lack of beds in psychiatric wards.”
The above violation was not mentioned in this year’s report.
Among the other violations:
According to the Human Rights Watch, Australia used its United Nations Security Council seat to promote human rights in Syria, North Korea, Central African Republic, and elsewhere, but failed to speak out and act on the abuses taking place in these countries.
The report also accused the Australian government of muting its criticism of authoritarian governments in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, “apparently in hopes of winning support of these governments for its refugee policy.”
Asylum Seekers & Refugees
The report – not surprisingly – has slammed Australia’s approach to asylum seekers, claiming that Australia’s foreign policy focuses on deterring asylum seekers from coming here at the exclusion of others.
“Australia’s aspirations for a more powerful role in world affairs will get nowhere until it acts on human rights concerns both at home and abroad.”
The report also heavily criticised Australia’s policy of transferring all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Nauru and PNG despite being aware of its prolonged status of being violent towards refugees, and its poor conditions. “The obsession with “stopping the boats” is a main driver of foreign policy with disastrous consequences.”
Equal Rights and Same Sex Marriage
“Despite increasing public support for same-sex marriage in Australia, marriage remains restricted to heterosexual relationships in accordance with the federal Marriage Act,” the report states.
According to Human Rights Watch, Australia’s failure to recognize equal rights will undermine the country’s ability to call for stronger global influence and human rights protection overseas.
The government’s decision to establish an indigenous advisory council while defending the Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was also criticised as was the high numbers of indigenous people in jail.
“While some health and socio-economic indicators are improving for indigenous Australians, they still on average live 10-12 years less than non-indigenous Australians,” the report warns.
Aboriginals also “have an infant mortality rate almost two times higher, and continue to die at alarmingly high rates from treatable and preventable conditions such as diabetes and respiratory diseases”.