AUSTRALIAN LAWYERS for Human Rights has welcomed a federal parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s human rights dialogue process, but has also encouraged the Government to expand the process to include other nations in the Asia-Pacific.
The Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, announced last week that it would conduct the inquiry into the dialogue process. In 1997, the Federal Government initiated a high-level bilateral dialogue on human rights with China. Similar discussions commenced with Vietnam and Iran in 2002.
The Joint Standing Committee claimed the aim of the dialogues was to hold frank and constructive discussions to demonstrate the commitment of both countries to the talks and the overall strength of their bilateral ties with Australia.
Simon Rice, president of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR), one of the non-governmental organisations that will be consulted to prepare the dialogue, told Lawyers Weekly they were “seen as an important forum for raising human rights issues”.
The Joint Standing Committee will focus particularly on parliamentary participation and oversight, the involvement of non-governmental organisations, the roles and obligations of participating agencies, reporting requirements and mechanisms, and the monitoring and evaluation of outcomes.
Rice said the inquiry was positive because it meant the Government was taking the issues seriously and said ALHR welcomed the opportunity “to examine dimensions of the dialogue process further”.
While the annual discussions with China, Vietnam and Iran were essential, ALHR also called for the process to be expanded to include other nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
“It is seven years since a parliamentary committee reported on Australia’s Regional Dialogue on Human Rights, and some of the Committee’s recommendations remain outstanding,” Rice said. “ALHR welcomes the opportunity to revisit those recommendations in an inquiry.”
Admitting the process was valuable, Rice said “it would be more valuable if it were made more transparent and accountable. We don’t know what has been said and nothing is reported, so we would like the committee to look at it to make it better.”
“Real progress will not be made until the dialogues are reported and open to scrutiny,” Rice said.
ALHR also called for greater involvement for independent human rights experts in the dialogue process.