Public International Law

There are many international treaties that address racial discrimination. Australia has ratified most of these treaties and, therefore, is bound by a series of international obligations established by them.

The main international treaty on this subject is the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which was ratified by Australia in 1975. By ratifying this treaty, Australia has accepted that individuals can make complaints related to racial discrimination against Australia to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD). Australia has also committed to submit periodic reports about the national implementation of the convention for evaluation by the Committee.

Besides the ICERD, Australia has also ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), both of which state that all rights prescribed in the treaty must be applied by states-parties without any discrimination.

Australia in the international field

After receiving Australia’s most recent report in February 2016, the UNCERD expressed concern about several issues related to racial discrimination in Australia, including “that expressions of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, including in the public sphere, in political debates and in the media, are on the rise. The Committee also expresses concern that migrants, notably Arabs and Muslims, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as Africans and people of African descent, South Asians and indigenous peoples, are particularly affected by racist hate speech and violence.” Based on its observations, the Committee made recommendations to Australia on how to improve the situation in the country in order to fully comply with the obligations contained in the ICERD.

Australia also received recommendations from the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (SR Racism) after his visit to Australia, which took place from 28 November to 5 December 2016. Among the many recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, is the recommendation “to adopt a fundamental bill of rights, with a clause therein to establish its precedence over all other legislation.

This visit was followed by a visit of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples (SRIPeoples), which took place between 20 March and 3 April 2017. In her report published after the visit, the Special Rapporteur “found deeply disturbing the numerous reports on the prevalence of racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Racism manifests itself in different ways, ranging from public stereotyped portrayals as violent criminals, welfare profiteers and poor parents, to discrimination in the administration of justice.”

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