Australia must support UN action on systemic racism, say advocates

By Jerome Doraisamy|22 June 2020
United Nations

As a member of the Human Rights Council, Australia can and should act in a principled way to support, not hinder, scrutiny of racism and police violence, legal advocates argue.

The Australian government should support an urgent resolution in the UN Human Rights Council for an independent investigation into systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protest in the US, according to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and human rights organisations.

The Human Rights Law Centre, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Change the Record are urging the Australian government to “act in a principled way, both on the world stage and at home”, with regards to these issues.

The draft resolution, being put forward by African states, is supported by over 600 civil society organisations around the world, the advocates said. However, they said there are “reports” that Australia, a member of the Human Rights Council, “has been working with the US to [water down] the resolution to remove any reference to the US or the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry”.

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“Australian officials are reported to have lobbied African countries to tone down their language in the resolution,” the advocates noted.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services co-chair Nerita Waight said: “The [royal commission] was meant to put an end to [black] deaths in custody but the [commission’s] findings are still gathering dust, and over 437 of us have died in police or prison cells since.

“This is an opportunity for the Australian [government] to demonstrate that it is finally willing to act with integrity on racial injustice, including confronting Australia’s own dark history. It should support the independent UN inquiry into racism and policing in the US, while also acting to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody at home.”

Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby added: “What’s happening in the US highlights the harm and deaths caused by generations of discrimination and racist policing, which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are all too familiar with in Australia.”

“Human rights leadership is desperately needed, both globally and at home. The Australian [government] should support an independent inquiry into the widespread problem of racism in law enforcement in the US, as well as ending discriminatory laws and practices in Australia that see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people targeted and locked up at disproportionate rates.”

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Elsewhere, Human Rights Law Centre legal director Adrianne Walters noted that “both on the global stage and in its own backyard, the Australian government must prioritise ending systemic racism in criminal justice systems”.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a spotlight on the pervasiveness of systemic racism and its devastating consequences in the US. Here in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander [peoples] have fearlessly fought for an end to police violence, discriminatory laws and the structural racism that kills,” she said.

“Just as the Morrison [government] can act to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody here, it can and should take a principled position and support an independent UN inquiry into systemic racism and police violence in the US.”

Australia must support UN action on systemic racism, say advocates
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