Monday, August 13, 2007

Amnesty Media Statement - 'Human rights must not be trampled on in rush to introduce new legislation'

"Amnesty International Australia (AIA) is calling on the Senate to ensure it does not pass legislation that is inconsistent with Australia’s human rights obligations.

“We strongly support all genuine measures to address child abuse, however this legislation is without precedent and the public needs to know what the impact will be on Indigenous human rights. The Government must be held accountable for ensuring that all these measures are necessary, effective and proportionate,” says Andrew Beswick, Campaign Manager, Amnesty International Australia.

The Government’s national emergency response in the Northern Territory includes the introduction of five pieces of legislation currently being considered by Parliament. These relate to alcohol restrictions, national welfare reforms to address child neglect and encourage school attendance, customary law issues, new land lease arrangements and community service issues such as housing.

The Government has claimed ‘special measures’ are needed to overcome barriers to social and economic rights such as health, development and education. International law allows for special measures, under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and AIA would support these, for a limited time, if it was shown that it would progress the social and economic wellbeing of the people it seeks to help.

However, the Government has proposed that the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), which implements Australia’s obligations under CERD, does not apply to this legislation.

“This attempt to sidestep the RDA contradicts their claim that the legislation contains genuine special measures provided for under the Convention, and should be rejected.

“As it stands, the Government is making changes to land rights and the permit system, without having demonstrated how these will improve the situation of child abuse in Indigenous communities,” says Mr Beswick.

AIA believes this will require an ongoing reporting process showing genuine human rights outcomes, conducted by an independent body. The urgent need for this accountability has been reinforced by the lack of consultation the Government has afforded the Indigenous community, directly contravening General Recommendation 23 on Indigenous Peoples, from the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

“The reporting process must give those who are raising concerns now, the opportunity to have their views considered in the implementation of this unprecedented legislation.’

“This is an issue about effective policy and we are calling for the Australian Government to be held accountable." "

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