UN special rapporteur on indigenous affairs visits Australia

Australia to reinstate its anti-racist act

Canberra, Australia | upi.com | August 24th 2009 + RELATED ARTICLES

The Australian government has reiterated its intention to bring back the Racial Discrimination Act within the Northern Territory after it was suspended two years ago.

The comments come as a U.N. special rapporteur on indigenous human rights is touring some of the country's most disadvantaged aboriginal communities investigating people's claims of racial discrimination by the territorial and federal governments.

At issue is the federal government's decision to intervene in the lives of aboriginals to improve their lot versus what the aboriginals claim is dictatorial, overbearing regulation and discriminatory practices.

Many of the aboriginal towns and camps are the poorest places in Australia, with living conditions, health ailments and child abuse most problematic.

The act ensures no Australian is discriminated against. However, it was suspended to allow the Northern Territorial Government to take over the running of around 70 aboriginal communities.

With the act suspended, the government has been dictating how many aboriginals live their lives, including where and how their welfare checks are spent such as how much a family must spend on food. Also, entertainment has been curtailed including Internet access and in particular access to pornographic Web sites.

But church leaders, aboriginal rights groups and political activists have said government actions are discriminatory because they are based on race. They have been fighting for the Racial Discrimination Act to be re-instated as soon as possible and the town councils to be handed back to the aboriginals.

Thousands of aboriginals have written to the United Nations demanding the organization visit the Northern Territory. The current fact-finding tour of U.S. law Professor James Anaya, the special rapporteur, is the result of their petitioning efforts, and Anaya kicked off his visit in controversial fashion.

Anaya is the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. He was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples in March 2008.

On the first day of his visit he told Australian media that there appears a prima facie case that suspending the act is discriminatory. But he also said he had yet to make up his mind whether the suspension was in the best interests of Australia's indigenous people.

Asked if the suspension was "undeniably discriminatory" Anaya said that "on its face, yes. But I'm not expressing a conclusion about whether or not that's justified at this time," he told reporters in Canberra.

The federal government's case that the suspension was working in the aboriginals favor suffered a setback last week. Jim Davidson, head of the Northern Territory's Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program, was fired after revelations of mismanagement of government funds to build 750 houses.

He was sacked after it became public that the SIHIP's administration costs would absorb more than 70 percent of the program's $563 million budget. The program was launched 18 months ago, but no houses have yet been built.

The program has been delayed because of legal wrangling over the government securing proper land leases upon which to build the houses, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin told Parliament.

The Racial Discrimination Act could be reinstated during the spring session of Parliament. But even so, the government has said it will fight to keep some control over aboriginal town councils.

Anaya is expected to leave Australia by the end of the week.

UN Human Rights Report

ABC Radio Australia News | 17th August 2009

The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Affairs has begun a twelve day visit to Australia and will report to the U-N Human Rights Council on the situation of Australia's indigenous people.

Professor James Anaya will travel to urban and remote areas to meet government and indigenous representatives as well as civil society groups.

Aboriginal people suffer deep disadvantage by almost every measure, with the Rudd Labor government promising to close the gap.



UN probes human rights in Aboriginal communities

Brigid Glanville www.abc.net.au | 17th August 2009

A special investigator from the United Nations will today begin a two-week examination of remote Aboriginal communities.

Professor James Anaya, the UN's special rapporteur on Indigenous human rights, will visit a number of town camps and Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia.

It is expected he will meet with a number of groups to raise concerns about the Federal Government's Northern Territory intervention, as well as the Government itself, before reporting back to the UN.

More than 3,000 letters from Indigenous people and community groups will be presented to Professor Anaya, detailing concerns the intervention is racially discriminatory.

David Cooper, from the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTAR), says Australia has breached part of the UN's declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples, and not just in relation to the Northern Territory Intervention.

"We have to acknowledge that the health of Indigenous peoples is in an absolutely appalling state," he said.

"It is worse than ... similar countries that have Indigenous populations such as New Zealand and the United States and Canada, and this has been going on decade after decade.

"We would have to say that Indigenous people are not at present accessing the right health in the way that the rest of the population is."

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says the legislation to reinstate the suspended Racial Discrimination Act will be introduced into Parliament in October.

'Funds are wasted'
The UN's visit coincides with a report showing that Aboriginal health funding is overly complex and tied up with too much paperwork.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health's report recommends that one body should be allocated to look after all Aboriginal primary health care funding.

The report's author, Professor Judith Dwyer from Flinders University, says money is being wasted.

"The average service in our survey received about $2 million a year in funding from 22 different grants," she said.

"So they would have been sending in more than 50 reports, using probably about eight different kinds of information systems to collect the data on what they had delivered.

"They had a lot of their resources tied up in doing that."


UN rep visits Australia to probe Aboriginal discrimination claims
AAP Jerusalem Post | 17th August 2009

A United Nations representative is visiting Australia to investigate complaints that a government crackdown on child abuse in Outback settlements is violating Aborigines' human rights.

UN special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya, was requested by a coalition of Aboriginal groups, church leaders and social justice organizations to investigate a two-year-old federal crackdown on sexual abuse of minors in the Northern Territory, the coalition said in a statement on Monday.

The federal government suspended its anti-discrimination laws to implement its response to a Northern Territory government-commissioned report in 2006 that found child abuse was rampant in remote Aboriginal settlements.

The government then imposed strict measures in 2007 aimed at protecting children from abuse. Alcohol and hard-core pornography were banned from Aboriginal communities and indigenous inhabitants were forced to spend a portion of their welfare checks on family essentials like food. Activists say these measures violate human rights because they target Aborigines only.

"During my 12-day mission, I will investigate and report on the major challenges faced by indigenous peoples of the country in the enjoyment of their human rights," Anaya said in a statement last week. He was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

'The situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia'

Australian Human Rights Commission - www.hreoc.gov.au | 3rd Decembert 2008
AUDIO: Professor James Anaya mp3

The Australian Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with the Indigenous People’s Organisations, was pleased to present the fifth seminar in this series celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), entitled 'The situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia'.

The keynote speaker was Professor James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous Peoples. Prof. Anaya is James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona (United States). He started his mandate as special rapporteur in May 2008.

As special rapporteur Professor Anaya has a mandate to examine ways by which the obstacles to the full and effective protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.

In fulfilling this mandate he works closely with member States and UN bodies, including the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Human Rights Council, in identifying human rights concerns and sharing best practices on how they can be addressed.

Some of the means by which the Special Rapporteur carries out his mandate include:

  • Presenting annual reports on particular topics or situations of special importance regarding the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples;
  • Undertaking country visits;
  • Exchanges information with Governments concerning alleged violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, including where relevant responding to urgent actions; and
    Undertakes activities to follow-up on the recommendations included in his reports.
  • The Special Rapporteur spoke about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reflecting on how it mirrored the existing human rights protections guaranteed in the Declaration on Human Rights, which has its 60th anniversary this year.



The special rapporteur commented on the importance of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a measure of the minimum human rights standards for Indigenous Peoples. The special rapporteur spoke of the need for there to be widespread awareness of the Declaration among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. He commented on the significant ways in which governments have already started to implement the Declaration, such as through constitutional recognition. He also noted the need for training among member States’ government officials on the Declaration and its implementation.

Members of the Indigenous Peoples Organisations and other members of the audience had the opportunity to talk on a range of human rights issues currently impacting on Indigenous peoples in Australia.

The special rapporteur is formally visiting Australia where he will have an opportunity to engage in dialogues with the government and communities on the protections for Indigenous rights in Australia.


UN looks into state of Aboriginal welfare

August 17, 2009
A special investigator from the United Nations is beginning a two week examination of Australia's remote Aboriginal communities. Professor James Anaya the UN special Rapporteur will report back to the United Nations after his tour. As well as meeting with the Federal Government he will visit a number of town camps and Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory and other parts of the country.

Presenter:Brigid Glanville
Speakers: Professor Judith Dwyer, from Flinders University; David Cooper, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation.
Listen: Windows Media

BRIGID GLANVILLE: More than 3,000 letters from Indigenous people and community groups will be presented to the United Nations special rapporteur on Indigenous human rights. The letters detail their concerns that the Northern Territory intervention is racially discriminatory.

David Cooper is from ANTaR, the Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation.

DAVID COOPER: You know the legislation that brought in the intervention, ah, specifically suspended the action of the racial discrimination act and also the legislation within the Territory dealing with racial discrimination and a number of those measures would not have got through, they would have been illegal had the RDA been operational and that includes measures such as the income-management measures, the alcohol prohibition. There is a number of those measures that would fall under that classification.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: David Cooper says Australia has breached part of the United Nations declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples and he says it's not just in relation to the Northern Territory intervention.

DAVID COOPER: We have to acknowledge that the health of Indigenous peoples is in an absolutely appalling state. It is far worse than countries, similar countries, that have Indigenous populations such as New Zealand and the United States and Canada and this has been going on decade after decade.

So we would have to say that Indigenous people are not at present accessing the right to health in the way that the rest of the population is.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says the legislation to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act will be introduced into the Parliament in October. The Government also says consultations are currently being held discussing the intervention.

The United Nations visit coincides with a report showing that Aboriginal health funding is overly complex and tied up with too much paperwork. The Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health's report recommends one body should be allocated to look after Aboriginal primary health care funding. The report's author is Professor Judith Dwyer from Flinders University.

JUDITH DWYER: The average service in our survey received about $2 million a year in funding from 22 different grants so they would have been sending in more than 50 reports using probably about eight different kinds of information systems to collect the data on what they had delivered and they had a lot of their resources tied up in doing that.


UN rep visits Australia to probe Aboriginal discrimination claims

AAP Jerusalem Post | 17th August 2009

A United Nations representative is visiting Australia to investigate complaints that a government crackdown on child abuse in Outback settlements is violating Aborigines' human rights.

UN special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya, was requested by a coalition of Aboriginal groups, church leaders and social justice organizations to investigate a two-year-old federal crackdown on sexual abuse of minors in the Northern Territory, the coalition said in a statement on Monday.

The federal government suspended its anti-discrimination laws to implement its response to a Northern Territory government-commissioned report in 2006 that found child abuse was rampant in remote Aboriginal settlements.

The government then imposed strict measures in 2007 aimed at protecting children from abuse. Alcohol and hard-core pornography were banned from Aboriginal communities and indigenous inhabitants were forced to spend a portion of their welfare checks on family essentials like food. Activists say these measures violate human rights because they target Aborigines only.

"During my 12-day mission, I will investigate and report on the major challenges faced by indigenous peoples of the country in the enjoyment of their human rights," Anaya said in a statement last week. He was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

Aborigines Demand Community Controls Lifted as UN Envoy Visits

Ed Johnson www.bloomberg.com | 17th August 2009

Aboriginal groups are demanding the Australian government lifts its control of dozens of Outback communities as a United Nations envoy begins a 12-day mission to probe human rights in the country.

Under a plan known as the "intervention," then Prime Minister John Howard in 2007 took charge of 73 Aboriginal townships after a government-commissioned report said alcohol and drugs were fuelling sexual abuse of indigenous children.

More than 3,000 people signed a letter to James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, decrying the "discriminatory" policy, which saw troops deployed and welfare payments held by government officials to ensure money is spent on food.

"It has had an enormous psychological impact on people in Aboriginal communities," said David Cooper, of the group Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation. "It is going back to the old days of people having their lives controlled in every aspect by a government official."

Anaya, who will be welcomed to the country by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin today, will meet with government and indigenous leaders during the trip that will take him to several townships.

"I will investigate and report on the major challenges faced by indigenous peoples of the country in the enjoyment of their human rights," he said in a statement.

Poorest Group

Aborigines remain the poorest and most disadvantaged group in Australian society more than 200 years after Europeans settled the nation in 1788.

Their life expectancy is 17 years less than other Australians and they are three times more likely to experience coronary problems, according to the Australian Medical Association.

Some campaigners say many indigenous settlements are more akin to the Third World than a modern industrialized nation.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who defeated Howard in a November 2007 election, has pledged to step up efforts to tackle social disadvantage in indigenous communities, including closing the life expectancy gap between Aborigines and other Australians within a generation and halving infant mortality rates within a decade.

Rudd’s government has continued the "intervention" and campaigners are demanding that ministers hold "genuine negotiation" with Aboriginal elders on the way ahead.

Unfairly Targeted

Aborigines are "unfairly targeted and publicly humiliated" when they have to join lines in stores to buy food with special cards because half their welfare payments are quarantined, Cooper said.

"The symbolism of having the army and teams going into communities in uniform was a huge slap in the face for communities," he added.

The Racial Discrimination Act, suspended by Howard’s government, should be reinstated, the campaigners wrote in the letter to be handed to Anaya.

The government will introduce legislation in October to reinstate the act, said Jessica Walker, Macklin’s media adviser. "We are conducting extensive consultations on the intervention," she said by telephone.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Johnson in Sydney at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net.

Macklin backs out of UN envoy visit

abc.net.au 22nd August 2009

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has cancelled a visit to a remote Northern Territory community with the United Nations rapporteur on indigenous rights.

Professor James Anaya is holding discussions about the rights of Indigenous people across Australia as part of a 10-day visit.

Today he is expected to meet with representatives from the Northern Land Council and the Laynhapuy Homelands Association in Yirrkala.

Ms Macklin was expected to join the visit this afternoon and take Professor Anaya to Groote Eylandt, in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

It is one of the only places where construction has begun on the controversial Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program.

A spokeswoman says Ms Macklin has pulled out of the visit for personal reasons.

Professor Anaya will present a report to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation with Indigenous people in Australia next week.