Australia appeared for its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.
Although the UPR's recommendations are yet to be announced, it was largely expected by legal bodies that Indigenous and asylum seeker issues would come under particular scrutiny.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) national committee member Benedict Coyne, who attended the hearing, said: “Australia remains the only liberal democracy and common law legal system without a federal Human Rights Act or Bill of Rights.”
He continued: “This international forum of accountability provides a great opportunity for Australia to improve its human rights record.”
The UPR is a relatively new scheme run by the UN, where every four years each of the 193 UN member countries undergoes a peer review and assessment of their human rights record.
At its first UPR in January 2011, Australia received 53 red cards and 145 recommendations to clean up its act from fellow UN member countries.
While more than 90 per cent of the recommendations from 2011 were accepted in whole or in part by the Australian Government, only 10 per cent of those have been implemented.
ALHR submitted a report, produced collaboratively with a contingent of NGOs, to the UN Human Rights Council reflecting on the past four years and how Australia’s human rights record has demonstrably worsened in alarming ways.
Mr Coyne said that Australia’s human rights record has plummeted since 2011 with the resumption of offshore processing, wide-ranging claims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse of women and children, condemnations of torture of asylum seekers and plans to dispossess 150 remote Aboriginal Communities.
“We hope that greater engagement by Australia with the UN system will lead to a greater understanding within Australia of the need for stronger protections including a federal Human Rights Act,” Mr Coyne said.
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) made a submission to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to assist in the review of Australia’s human rights record through the UPR.
The LCA has called on the Australian Government to follow through on its previous UPR commitments by addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in prison.
In terms of asylum seekers’ rights, the Law Council urged the Australian Government to ensure that, in accordance with its previous UPR commitments, the processing of claims is in accordance with the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and that detention only occurs when strictly necessary.
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The LCA has said it will be encouraging the Australian Government to embrace the recommendations that arise from the second UPR.