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Australia Undermining UN Efforts to Defend Human Rights in Burma and Weakening its Own Leadership in the Process

By Human Rights Law Centre  •  March 15, 2016

As Australia undermines international efforts to address Burma’s significant human rights challenges, it also misses an opportunity to establish its credentials as a global human rights leader, the Human Rights Law Centre has warned today.

UN member states are currently negotiating a resolution on how the UN Human Rights Council will address Burma’s human rights situation at the 31st session of the Council being held in Geneva.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said that although Burma had made significant progress towards democracy in the last four years, advice from the Human Rights Council’s dedicated expert on Burma was that the critical democratic transition is in its infancy and the change needs to be monitored closely.

“Australia should heed the UN expert on Burma’s view that “formidable human rights challenges remain”, including attacks on civilians in Burma’s conflict zones, intimidation and surveillance of human rights defenders, detention of political prisoners, systemic discrimination against Muslims and widespread judicial corruption. It’s premature to remove the UN’s oversight of these abuses,” said Ms Howie.

In acknowledgment of the situation, the US, UK and European Union are pushing for the UN to continue to closely monitor and report on the country’s progress and ongoing human rights abuses. This position is supported by over 100 Burmese civil society organisations that also wrote to the United Nations asking for it to continue to provide strong monitoring and leadership on the “massive human rights challenges” facing Burma.

In contrast, Australia is suggesting that the Human Rights Council’s involvement should be downgraded to merely providing technical assistance to Burma.

“Instead of supporting the Burmese people, Australia’s approach severely underplays the extent and seriousness of the ongoing human rights abuses. It reduces pressure at a critical time of the democratic transition and diminishes the ability of the international community, including our allies, to push for much-needed change,” said Ms Howie.

Australia is a candidate for membership of the Human Rights Council for the term 2018-20.

“If Australia wants to be seen as a world leader on human rights, it must step up and advocate for them at critical moments such as these. It is incredibly disappointing to see Australia go soft on some of the most egregious abuses in our region,” said Ms Howie.

In 2015 the Human Rights Law Centre and Human Rights Watch released a report Australia at the Human Rights Council: Ready for a Leadership Role? It found that for Australia to be seen as a human rights leader on the world’s premiere human rights body, it needs to show greater leadership on global issues and engage more constructively with nongovernmental organisations.

“Not only do we let the victims down, but Australia misses the opportunity to distinguish itself as a human rights champion and bolster its Human Rights Council bid,” said Ms Howie.

For more information or further comments, please contact:
Emily Howie +61-421-370-997 emily.howie@hrlc.org.au.

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This post is in: Press Release

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