Day 1 – Benedict Coyne – Human Writes Human Rights Blog – Trip to Geneva for Australia’s Second Universal Periodic Review November 2015

 DAY 1: Sat 7 Nov 2015 – BRISBANE TO DUBAI

Okay. Human writes human rights. Bag packed. Passport. Didn’t miss plane. Sure I turned the iron off…well it turns itself off anyways…:-)

Off to Geneva

Excited to be off on a last minute mission to Geneva for Australia’s Second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council. Whether we cop a significant kicking remains to be seen but seems in the “not unlikely – actually-quite-highly-likely” category on the spectrum of universal probability given Australia’s significant dismal decline in respecting basic human rights standards since we copped a grilling from the international community at our first UPR in January 2011.

My passion and interest to get over to Geneva for this is not merely a week of joyful jetlag, but as a national committee member of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) and chair of the Human Rights Act subcommittee we took part in drafting the Joint NGO Report.[1] The purpose of this is to allow a civil society counterbalance/ reality check to the Government’s over-excited and misleading self-promotion – i.e. to measure down and reality check the rather resplendent (and quite misleading) rhetoric of the Brandis/Bishop brigade to in fact present Australia’s human rights scorecard as it is – i.e. where we are currently, rather than where they might want us to be (for UN electioneering purposes).

Human Writes Human Rights

I recently completed my Masters in International Human Rights Law (IHRL) at Oxford University and the research topic for my dissertation was, in the context of the UPR, exploring why Australia remains alone among liberal democracies and common law legal systems as bereft of basic legal protections of human rights either through a constitutional bill of rights or a federal legislative charter of rights.

The UPR is akin to a “World Cup” of human rights; a four year assessment of each countries human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council (i.e. the global human rights parliament). Thus it is a very significant event in the international calendar. The UPR is a constructive and dialogic process, and as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated, it “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world.” That is to shine bright the light of human rights!

Australia’s UPR comes at an especially significant historic time, where Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Attorney General George Brandis are upping their radical (and rather embarrassing) double speak rhetoric as to how apparently human rights savvy Australia is for the purpose of their pursuit of strategic bids for membership of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council. Unfortunately for them I don’t think the international community can be gulled so easily.

Australia copped a good bit of grief from the international community at our first UPR in January 2011 about why we have consistently failed to act in good faith and failed to implement the majority of our binding IHRL obligations. After all we did voluntarily sign onto and ratify the 7 core IHRL treaties/conventions so it only make sense that after 40 years of delay we actually implement them. After all George Brandis loves to boast about how Australia is a robust democracy founded on the rule of law.

My reading on the plane consisted of refreshing and re-reading the following documents related to Australia’s second UPR:

Those two reports are highly recommended and make for very interesting, albeit very concerning, reading. Since Australia’s first UPR our human rights hussle regarding international standards on the domestic playing field has taken a turn for the worst. Our status as a lucky country can be questioned when poverty has increased and 13.9% of people now living below the poverty line including 603,000 children, despite the welcome appointment of a Children’s Rights Commissioner. Of course there are the other glaring and deplorable problems in Australia’s (mis)treatment of asylum seekers, indigenous people, the mentally ill, the homeless, women and children – all of which will no doubt continue to be of concern to the international community.

The Australian government has only fully implemented 10% of the recommendations of the international community that it accepted. Quite embarrassing really. Especially as we’re currently asking the international community to vote us on the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council. It’s sort of like the recalcitrant school bully who broke school rules turning up and expecting to get voted on the school council without properly reforming its bigoted behaviour.

Plan Prep

I also read the Australian government’s “National Report of Australia – Universal Periodic Review Second Cycle – 2015” and almost choked on my Emirates edibles. I’m not sure if I am reading to much into it but the report does not even come on an Australian government letterhead which is perhaps symbolic of the general regard the conservative side of Australian politics seems to have for the UN. The gap between reality and rhetoric is quite mind-blowing as the document is replete with half-truths, mistruths, and misleading aspirationalisms. If one were an extraterrestrial (read “astray-alien”) reading the above 3 reports you would be in a head-spin morality cringe thinking that the Australian government were on another planet in a parallel dimension compared to NGO civil society groups and the AHRC – and it appears they are! And of course, this is the problem.

We put out a media release before I left and I put myself out as a media correspondent including contacting a few journalists I know directly and The Project. Unfortunately there is scant media interest in Australia at such important international UN human rights events and perhaps that is symptomatic of our geographic isolation as well as our moral isolation of the modern international community’s status quo (?)

It is certainly going to be a very interesting few days ahead which i am greatly looking forward to.

[1] As a significant side-note, I have dreamed of going to the UN in Geneva as a human rights lawyer since I was about 16yo when I was introduced by my mum to writing letters for Amnesty International to free political prisoners. So it was a bit of a #yolo / carpe diem opportunity.