AT THE annual conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law held at the National Museum of Australia last week, Attorney General Robert McClelland announced that the federal government will strengthen its participation in the United Nations.
Though he admitted that the UN was “by no means a perfect institution”, McClelland said that engaging with it was the best way to make it stronger and more effective.
“We are faced with two options in relation to advancing international human rights,” he said. “We can snipe at international human rights institutions from the sidelines while other nations take the lead, or we can engage with those institutions in a spirit of co-operation. Let me assure you that this government will not be on the sidelines.”
On this front, McClelland said that the government is currently working to fast-track the process for ratification of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and has also prioritised becoming party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
According to McClelland, balancing the two goals of promoting and protecting human rights and advancing national peace and security remains: “one of the most important dilemmas facing Governments around the world, including our own.”
McClelland said that the recently concluded treaty banning inhumane cluster munitions was a good example of this balance. The treaty contains provisions on “victim assistance” — which McClelland said would help deliver “real outcomes” for survivors of cluster munitions and their families.
However the treaty also recognises that not all states will become a party to it in the short term, and it has provisions preserving the ability of military forces of parties to the treaty to continue to operate together with non parties.
“I understand that this provision is not without its critics, but this is part of the balance needed to make such treaties achievable,” he said.
He also spoke of the soon to be established International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which will be charged with assessing the progress made in achieving the aims of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and examining ways of strengthening its provisions.
“There are pressures on the efficiency of the NPT that need to be addressed by the international community,” he said.
Finally, McClelland discussed the role of international courts and tribunals and the place for international litigation. International litigation, McClelland said, should not be commenced lightly.
“It is a course of action that should not be considered in isolation. Factors such as the effect of commencing litigation on relations with other countries must be considered,” he said. The government should also carefully consider the likelihood of success or failure of litigation, and that the court or tribunal used must be carefully matched to the law and the facts of the particular case, he added.
“Such a decision requires a government, on the basis of proper advice, to weigh up a range of legal and diplomatic factors,” McClelland said. “Of course, having weighed those factors, governments should not be afraid of taking legal action through international courts where that is the appropriate course.”
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