GENEVA (7 December 2016) – United Nations human rights expert Mutuma Ruteere called on all Australians to strengthen efforts to end racism, xenophobia and other forms of racial discrimination in the country, especially against indigenous people, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, Muslims, and persons of African descent.
“The elimination of racism, xenophobia and discrimination will not happen unless it is led by the most senior political leadership and unless institutions such as the media play a constructive role,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on racism at the end of a fact-finding visit* to Australia.
Mr. Ruteere acknowledged the authorities’ interest to ensure multiculturalism and urged the Government to show leadership and respect diversity in a country where one out of two Australians is either born overseas or has at least a parent born outside the country. He further hailed the work and efforts of the civil society and the Australian Human Rights Commission towards equality of all.
However, the expert deplored the many challenges indigenous people and other groups continue to face in all aspects of their lives. “Indigenous people are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system, with high rates of juvenile incarceration and police profiling. The current policing of indigenous communities is too punitive and need an urgent change as its consequences can only lead to even further devastation of these communities,” he said.
“Indigenous peoples are three times more likely to experience unemployment, they remain at the margin of economic progress and prosperity,” the expert highlighted. M. Ruteere also regretted that indigenous languages and cultures are absent or rarely integrated in the educational programmes and called upon the authorities to develop appropriate curriculum for indigenous communities.
Regarding the current debate on Section 18 C) of the Racial Discrimination Act, prohibiting hate speech, the expert noted that this provision “sets the tone of an open, inclusive and multicultural Australia which respects and values the diversity of its peoples and protects indigenous and migrants against bigots and extremists who have become more vocal in Australia and other parts of the world”.
“I call upon the Government to maintain this section as a mean to protect discriminated groups against bigots and extremists,” he said.
“It is alarming to see that xenophobic hate speech, including by elected politicians, has been on the rise in Australia and cheered by sections of the mainstream media, contributing to reinforcing the negative perception of migrants, particularly Muslims and persons of African descent,” the Special Rapporteur said. He called upon political leaders to denounce and censure this kind of divisive and racist rhetoric and urge the media to resist the tempting descent into racist, and xenophobic stereotyping rhetoric and scapegoating.
The expert was also informed of threats and incidents of anti-Semitism faced by the Jewish community in the country.
Finally, the Special Rapporteur appealed to the Australian Government to recognize constitutionally the role and rights of its indigenous peoples, to consider a broader Human Rights Bill, which would ensure protection against racism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination to all, in the form of a Constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
During his visit, from 28 November to 5 December 2016, expert visited Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Alice Spring, where he met with Government officials at federal, state and territorial levels, legislative and judicial representatives, the Australian National Human Rights Commission, representatives of civil society organizations and of the UN system, as well as individual working in the field of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The conclusions and recommendations of this visit will be developed in a comprehensive report that will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20993&LangID=E
Mr. Mutuma Ruteere (Kenya) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in November 2011. As Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/SRRacism/Pages/IndexSRRacism.aspx
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Australia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/AUIndex.aspx
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