Australia’s UPR (3rd Cycle)
5 February 2021
Australia’s human rights record was considered by members of the United Nations during its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 20 January 2021.
In the lead up to the UPR, the Law Council provided a comprehensive stakeholder submission to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights which was extensively cited in the UN summary of stakeholders’ submissions. The Law Council is grateful for the advice of its expert advisory committees, sections and constituent bodies in informing this submission.
The UPR is a State-driven peer-review process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to fulfil their human rights obligations. During this process any UN Member State can pose questions, comments and make recommendations to the State under review.
At the recent review, 122 countries made close to 250 recommendations for Australia. Australia’s youth justice system was a focus with 31 countries recommending that Australia raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. This is a stark reminder that Australia is falling behind the rest of the world in in its responses to children and offending behaviours. The Law Council has long advocated for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 to 14 years, in line with Australia’s international obligations.
Australia’s treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum, and the need for greater action on climate change to protect human rights also featured heavily in the review.
While many countries commended Australia’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) since the last review in 2015, Australia was questioned on the implementation of National Preventative Mechanisms, which seek to improve oversight and conditions for people in detention.
In its response to the recommendations, the Australian Government focused on its commitment to working in partnership with First Nations people on decisions that affect them. It said it was committed to “working towards a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Australians in the Australian Constitution, when it has the best chance of succeeding.” In terms of raising the age of criminal responsibility, the Australian Government suggested that this was a state and territory issue, noting however that the Council of Attorney Generals’ Working Group was looking into the issue.
An outcomes report, setting out a full list of recommendations made during the review and the voluntary commitments by Australia, will be available later this month.