THIS WEEK’S HUMAN RIGHTS NEWS

By Bec Devitt and Eva Csik
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1st June 2012

VEOHRC releases report on children relinquished into state care

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has released a report that examines instances where children with a disability are relinquished into state care. The report found that 50 or more families are surrendering the day to day care of children with a disability to the State every year. Acting Commissioner Karen Toohey has described relinquishment as “a tragedy that is preventable and demonstrates a system under pressure.” Ms Toohey also said that “relinquishment caused by the failure to deliver adequate support denies the human rights of children and families under both Australian and international law.”

Julian Assange loses appeal

Julian Assange now faces extradition to Sweden to face charges of rape and sexual assault after losing his final appeal in a British Court. His lawyer now has 14 days to make an application to re-open the case on the basis that a legal question was not raised during the proceedings. If the court does not allow the case to be re-opened, Assange’s only remaining legal avenue will be the European Court of Human Rights. Human Rights Lawyer Jennifer Robinson says the government should be doing more for Julian Assange including exploring the possibility of diplomatic protection.

Asylum Seekers experience symptoms of new mental illness

The Age has reported that psychiatrists believe that asylum seekers who have been subject to long-term detention are experiencing symptoms of a ‘Protracted Asylum Seeker Syndrome.’

In related news, Catherine Branson QC, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, has drawn attention to the experience of refugees who are held in closed immigration detention without the prospect of release. The 48 adults in detention in Australia who are recognised as refugees but who have received an adverse security assessment have not been told of the reasons why they pose a threat to national security. They also do not have access to meaningful review by courts or tribunals.

NSW Parliament supports Same-Sex Marriage

The NSW Parliament has voted to support the legislation of gay marriage following the passage of a private members bill in the Legislative Council on the 31st of May.  Greens MP Cate Faehrmann introduced the private members bill, which passed 22-16 in the Legislative Council following a conscience vote by both major parties.

Debate on the motion was extended to two days so that members could have their say on the issue. Ms Faermann compared a ban on gay marriage to “1950’s laws prohibiting Aboriginal men from marrying white women.” Liberal MP Matthew Mason-Cox argued same-sex marriage could lead to polygamy, whilst fellow Liberal MP Catherine Cusack said denying gay marriage was a “19th century approach to relationships.”

Whilst the 1961 Commonwealth Marriage Act governs marriage federally, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young said the NSW motion put pressure on the Federal Opposition to allow a conscience vote on the issue.

Syrian Diplomats expelled from Australia following Houla Massacre

Australia, Britain, the United States, France, Italy, Canada and Spain have expelled Syrian diplomats following a massacre in the city of Houla in which more then 180 people were killed, the majority women and children sending a strong message to Syrian President Assad to implement a ceasefire.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr expelled Syria’s charge d’affaires, Jawdat Ali and another senior diplomat following the massacre and gave them 72 hours to leave the country. “The Syrian charge has again been advised to convey a clear message to Damascus that Australians are appalled by this massacre and we will pursue a unified international response to hold those to account”, Minister Carr said.  In the United States top diplomats called for a full investigation of the massacre with spokesperson Victoria Nuland describing the killings as indefensible, vile and despicable.

Metro refuses to meet with blind women at the Victorian Human Rights Commission.

Metro has refused to attend a hearing by the Victorian Human Rights Commission with a blind women who has been hindered by substandard station announcements because she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Annmarie Kelly brought the hearing against Metro to discuss claims that poor announcements at train stations unlawfully discriminate against her. Metro representatives refused to meet with Ms Kelly unless she signed a legally enforceable confidentiality agreement, which would prevent her from speaking about the conciliation hearing.

“I didn’t want to be unable to talk about poor announcements and how they are very important to me…and I didn’t want to get into trouble for standing up for my rights.” Ms Kelly said.

Employers could discriminate against job applicants based on Facebook profiles

Facebook could be the next frontier for human rights violations according to ACT Human Rights Commissioner Helen Watchirs. Facebook profiles could be accessed by employers who are interested in job applicants religion, sexuality, ethnicity or disabilities in order to deny employment or event an interview. Whilst Dr Watchirs said the ACT Human Rights Commission had not received any complaints about Facebook related discrimination by employers she said that these type of human rights violations could be inevitable.

“It is inevitable that social networking such as Facebook with 600 million users can also be a source of human rights violations such as cyber racism and employment discrimination.”

UNESCO Report criticises management of the Great Barrier Reef

A report released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) says that the Great Barrier Reef could be listed as a “World Heritage Site in danger” if Australia continues with “threatening” industrial developments along the Queensland Coast. The report released on June 2nd, says that no further development should go ahead without an assessment of the reefs health.

In particular the UNESCO report raises concerns about the approval on ongoing management of major liquified gas (LNG) plants at Curtis Island and recommends that the Australian government complete a strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef before 2015. The Federal Minister for the Environment Tony Burke said that he was not surprised by the report and the Federal and Queensland Governments are already working on a comprehensive assessment of the reef.

Kirby urges greater action on indigenous rights

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby giving the annual Lowitja O’Donaghue Oratioin at the University of Queensland called for greater political and judicial action to improve indigenous welfare and for indigenous people to speak out about injustices. “I hope that in my lifetime I do not see another initiative like the Northern Territory intervention-pressed forward for suspect motives and with no consultation with the Aboriginal peoples and communities most affected.

20th Anniversary of Mabo decision

Indigenous communities across Australia are preparing to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the High Court’s landmark Mabo decision on June 3rd. In 1992 Eddie Mabo and a group of Murray Islanders challenged the courts to recognise them as the rightful owners of their land in the Torres Strait, the High Court found that the group did have native title claims and that i was a right extended to all Indigenous Australian.

Torres Shire Council Mayor Pedro Stephen says the ruling continues to have a major impact on Islander identity stating that Mabo “certainly laid the first step for Torres Strait Islanders in actually giving us a very solid foundation about our sovereignty.” In Federal Parliament Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the Mabo decision a “sublime” moment in Australian history whilst a review of native title agreement processes will be announced at a conference in Townsville to mark the anniversary.

Roxon to restrict Freedom of Information

Federal Attorney General Nicola Roxon is set to restrict access to Freedom of Information (FOI) laws and correct “an anomaly” which allows Parliament to be subjected to requests for official documents. Parliament has been considered off limits to Federal FOI, however the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner declared that parliament had been under FOI laws for more then a decade. A spokesperson for Ms Roxon said that the “government is currently considering its options to correct this anomaly” and is also examining the reach of FOI in relation to the National Broadband Network and the work of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship

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