By Eva Csik and Bec Devitt

Government fails on child rights

The Australian Human Rights Commission has found that Australia’s treatment of suspected people smugglers who said that they were children has breached international human rights law in a report released on Friday.  The report An age of uncertainty reveal that between 2008 and 2011 Australian authorities gave little consideration to the rights of young Indonesians and found that the Federal Police, the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions “engaged in acts and practices that led to the contraventions of fundamental rights; not just rights recognised under international human rights law but in some cases rights also recognised at common law, such as right to a fair trial.”

The report also reveals how wrist X-rays were embraced as the best method to distinguish children from adults for prosecution purposes, a practice which has now been discredited. Australian Human Rights Commissioner Catherine Branson said the report showed that Australian authorities did “not respect the rights of children.”

UN plea ignored as refugee deported back to Sri Lanka

The Australian government has ignored the pleas of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to stay the deportation of a Tamil refugee who was forcibly sent back to Sri Lanka on the grounds that a complaint was made to the UN Committee Against Torture.  The Tamil refugee was sent back to Sri Lanka despite suffering from mental health issues and reports that asylum seekers returned to Sri-Lanka have been subjected to torture. Returned refugees are regularly stopped and interrogated by the Sri Lankan police.

The Tamil man had appealed to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture to examine his case. A letter sent to the Australian High Commission in Bangkok by the OHCHR asked Australia to “refrain from returning (name redacted) to Sri Lanka while his complaint is under consideration.” This request was ignored and advocates have called for the refugee to be immediately returned to Australia.

The Australian government’s role in stopping Sri Lankan refugees from fleeing the country has also been criticised by human rights groups as a breach of our human rights obligations. Phil Lynch, Director of the Human Rights Law Centre stated “this undermines the spirit of the Refugee Convention.”

Case against Max Brenner protesters dropped

On Monday, the Victorian Magistrate’s Court dismissed a case against 11 protesters who were arrested following a protest outside Max Brenner’s in Melbourne last July. The magistrate ruled that the protesters were exercising their “ human rights and said that the demonstration was lawful.”

The prosecution had argued that it would be “wilful trespass” to enter a public place with the intention of voicing political views, if it interfered with rights of others.  The court found that this interpretation was contrary to the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, which only allows limitations on free speech if there is a genuine threat to the public.

Adam Fletcher from the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law wrote in an article for the Conversation that the case could set an “important precedent for the right to peacefully protest in Australia.”

Race Discrimination Director releases consultation report

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a consultation report in support of the National Anti-Racism Partnership Strategy. The Strategy led by Dr.Helen Szoke and launched on the 24th of July is aimed at promoting a clear understanding in the Australian community of what racism is and how it can be prevented and reduced.

The Australian Human Rights Commission received over 120 submissions in its public consultation process. Dr.Szoke said that the consultation process clearly told us that racism is a problem in Australia and that it negatively affects the lives of the people who experience it.”

Amongst the submissions are claims that indigenous children in the Kalgoorlie region were placed in a segregated class and banned from gathering in groups of more then three. This claim however has not been corroborated and Dr.Szoke said no formal complaint had been made to the Commission.

Case dropped against David Hicks

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has dropped its attempts to seize proceeds made from the sale of David Hick’s memoir. In the Supreme Court of NSW the prosecution said that they had decided not to pursue the case. The DPP said that they had decided to drop the case following the release of new evidence.  The statement made by the DPP said Hicks had challenged the admissibility of the documentary evidence against him, including the certificate of conviction from the Guantanamo military court and the transcript’s from the court proceedings.

Mr Hicks said he had been unfairly pursued by Australian authorities and in a way  “I feel that this has cleared my name and I hope the Australian government acknowledges that Guantanamo Bay and everything connected with it.”

Western Australia and Queensland yet to sign on NDIS

Western Australia and Queensland remain the only state governments yet to sign up to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, after Victoria and New South Wales signed a deal yesterday.  Tasmania, ACT and South Australia had already signed up to scheme at the Council of Australian Governments meeting this week.  Victoria and New South Wales agreed to sign the Prime Minister’s demands yesterday to help fund the national insurance scheme whilst Western Australia has raised concern over how the scheme will be funded.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard hailed the National Disability Insurance Scheme as a big win for “people with disabilities and for all of us who want to see people with disabilities getting a better deal in our nation.”Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said disability advocates were celebrating a huge victory. “The is a triumph for people living with disability over politics.”

Image of suspected Asylum Seeker Boat off Christmas Island, Photo courtesy of: Hadi Zahar