UN Rapporteur blasts Australia over Civil Rights
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has condemned Australia for failing to provide a safe and civil society that ensures people are free to speak out and peacefully protest on issues of importance.
Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, has been in Australia for a two-week official visit, meeting with government, MPs and civil society organisations.
Forst was said to be astonished by reports of government measures such as gag laws, the Border Force Act and the criminalisation of peaceful protest in Tasmania, suggesting they all pointed to an erosion of basic democratic rights.
Emily Howie, Director of Advocacy and Research at the Human Rights Law Centre, described Forst’s comments as alarming.
“This a wake-up call to Australia: despite our strong track record as a vibrant and diverse democracy, the reality is that more and more people here feel silenced by government and fearful of speaking out. This trend has widespread impact, including on environmental organisations, journalists, trade unions, landholders, community lawyers, doctors working with refugees, philanthropists and more,” said Howie.
Howie suggested there was a disconnect between Australia’s reputation as a champion of international human rights and the realities of local government.
“When you look at it globally, Australia is simply incoherent. At the international level Australia defends the rights of people in China, Burma and elsewhere to political freedom and free speech. Yet at home, the Government can be seen as silencing its own people through measures such as the aggressive pursuit of whistleblowers, a suffocating culture of secrecy in government and the public vilification of people who speak out, such as Professor Gillian Triggs,” said Howie.
“It is vital that Australia use the Special Rapporteur’s statement and recommendations as a blueprint for reversing the damaging trend and ensures a safe and free environment for free speech, peaceful protest and political engagement,’ Howie concluded.