Australian Human Right Report: Australian Human Right Report: Human rights abuses towards the Aboriginal people
Students are asked here to identify a group in Australian society perceived as disadvantaged,
marginalized or suffering from different forms of discrimination or exclusion
(a) Analyses the situation of the group in the light of international and Australian human rights documents, policies and practice.
(b) Identifies a range of possible practical ways in which the human rights regime, at both national and international levels, might be utilized to help improve or change the group’s situation.
(c) Reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of framing both such a situational analysis and practical program for action [ie. parts (a) and (b) of the report] within a
human rights framework.
Please use the listed sources for the core of this article:
1. Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), Protecting Human Rights in Australia: A
Community Education Kit, available from http://piac.asn.au/publications/hrkit.html
2.Jack Donnelly, 2003. International Human Rights Regimes. In Jack Donnelly,
Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 2nd ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 127-154.
3.General Assembly of the United Nations, 1948. The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. New York: General Assembly of the United Nations. Available from
4.General Assembly of the United Nations, 1966. International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Available from http://www.2ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm
5.General Assembly of the United Nations, 1966. International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights. Available from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
6.David Beetham, 1995. What Future for Economic and Social Rights? Political
Studies, XLIII, 41-60
7.Shareen Hertel and Lanse Minkler, 2007. Economic Rights: The Terrain. Working
Paper 1, Economic Rights Working Paper Series. Human Rights Institute, University of Connecticut. Available at http://www.econ.uconn.edu/working/1.pdf
8. Mary Robinson, 2004. Advancing Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: The Way
Forward. Human Rights Quarterly, 26, 866-872.
Name of Course:
Analysis of the aboriginal group in the light of international and Australian human rights documents, policies and practice
Human rights are essential for the peaceful coexistence of people both nationally and internationally. The Declaration of Human of Human Rights spells out the human rights that all members of the human family ought to enjoy. According to this document, every person is entitled to rights and freedoms without distinction of whatever kind, be it race, sex, color, religion, national origin, social background, or place of birth (General Assembly of the United Nations, 1948, p. 1).
Human rights take many forms. For instance, a distinction is often made between economic rights, political rights, social rights and cultural rights (Donnelly 2003, p.127). Economic rights, for instance, are central to today’s international human rights regime, although traditionally, they have not received enough attention. There are many conceptual issues, measurement issues, and political issues that confront economic rights today. The same case applies to other categories of human rights. This paper analyzes human rights violations among the Aboriginal people in Australia. The paper analyzes the situation among Aboriginal people in light of both Australian and international human rights policies, documents, and practice. Then, the range of possible practical mechanisms that can be utilized both nationally and internationally in order to improve the situation of the Aborigines are assessed. Lastly, the paper undertakes a reflection on the different strengths and weaknesses of framing a practical program of action and a situational analysis within the framework of an aforementioned human rights network.
The violations of the human rights of the Aboriginal people in Australia have been reported as systematic, deep and widespread. For the aboriginal people, the struggle for survival is an urgent undertaking, in cultural, economic and physical aspects. The violence to which the aboriginal people have been subjected, particularly women, has reached epidemic proportions. It has been argued that this constitutes a continuation of violation of human rights.
The violence that is subjected to the Aboriginal people is based on many factors: gender, race, the effects of colonialism, and the minority states of the Aboriginal community. There is inequality in access to all resources in Australia, with the Aboriginal people getting the smallest share of the cake (Mercer 1993, p. 305). In order for the problem to be appreciated well, there is a need for the various roles and status of the Aboriginal community to be appreciated. These range from a fringe or separate community, to a highly integrated part of the modern Australian society. These different factors complicate the analysis of the issue of human rights violations, which involves the interplay of many factors.
All economic and social indicators give the suggestion that the Aboriginal people are the most disadvantaged Australians. The aboriginal people, who are highly marginalized, have tended to find themselves engaging in international human rights frameworks. These engagements arise from their perennial struggles for land rights, self-management, recognition of their cultural rights, and many other permutations of sovereignty.
There are many causes of marginalization for these people, one of them being demographic statistics that give rise to ineffective policies. The aboriginal people constitute less than 2% of the entire Australian population (Beetham1995, p. 42). Their influence in the country’s political process remains extremely limited. Moreover, they are to a large extent dependent on the support offered by the larger Australian population. This support appeared to reach its zenith in 1967 through the national referendum that empowered the Commonwealth government to offer legislation on every matter pertaining to the indigenous people. Another event that that reinforced the reliance of the aboriginal people on the majority Australian population is the decision by the Australian High Court on Land Rights in 1992, during a case involving Mabo v. the State of Queensland. In this decision, the doctrine of Terra Nullius was jettisoned. This doctrine had already been put in place about two hundred years ago, and here it was again. With this doctrine, the rights of Murray Islanders to their land were all recognized.
Most of the time, the political fortunes of the Australian Aboriginal people have been oscillating between complete dependence on a benign and somewhat unsympathetic government as far as the interests of the Aboriginal people are concerned. The dependence is often stifled by political interests in mining rights and conservative groupings.
The invasion of Australia, as well as the brutal decimation of the aboriginal community, started over 200 years ago, though the Aborigines had been traversing the vast continent for over 40,000 years ago. This colonization and dispossession history is well documented. Majority of the texts that highlight the painful events of the past bear testimony to, as well as suggest the main reasons for, the dire circumstances in which the Aboriginal people find themselves today.
Contact with Europeans was the main reason for the near-annihilation of all aboriginal communities. It has been argued that the activities of the settlers were underpinned on the idea that the aboriginal people would soon die as a race (McNeil 2004, p. 298). Although the Aboriginal people resisted colonization, their numbers were drastically reduced by disease. They were also denied access to land, thereby depriving them of resources and food. This also interfered with the various ceremonial practices, which had for a long time had been an integral part of their identity and culture. With white intrusion on the Aboriginal land, it was extremely difficult for these people to continue protecting all their sacred sites.
The practical role of the national and international human rights regimes in addressing aboriginal human rights abuses
National and international human right regimes have a critical role to play in ensuring that human rights abuses against the Aborigines are stopped. By so doing, these regimes will have helped the Aboriginal people to survive into the future. International human rights bodies have many instruments to use for their work. Two main instruments include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966 (General Assembly of the United Nations, 1966, p. 2).
The 30 articles that are contained in the UDHR provide a clear framework on the human rights that all people ought to enjoy(Robinson 2004, p. 868). Through reference to this declaration, it is easy for the UN to point out instances of human rights abuses against the Aboriginal people. The UDHR defines among other human rights, the right to participate in government, the right to social security, the right to work and choose employment, the right to education, and the right to be a part of any cultural community.
On the other hand, the ICESCR provides a highly embodying framework for human rights advocacy by guaranteeing the right of a cultural community’s self-determination. The Aboriginal people, implies this document, have the right to freely determine their own political status and to pursue their social, economic and cultural development. All states who are parties to this covenant are obliged to ensure that the goal of the right to self-determination is realized. The nations are expected to respect this right in conformity with various provisions outlined in the Charter of the United Nations (General Assembly of the United Nations, 1966, p. 3).
Furthermore, there is a lot of documentation on what constitutes human rights from both national and international perspectives. However, ambivalence towards violations of social, economic and, cultural rights remains commonplace in Australia, whether by those who are entrusted with the task of monitoring compliance or those who are tasked with the role of implementation (An-Na’im 1992, 196). These are the people who ought to be targeted by national and international human rights advocates. The penalties that are in order for such violators should be recommended to the United Nations and other monitoring agencies.
Some policymakers and economists hold the opinion that although the approach of advocating for compliance to economic rights provision is important for the Aboriginal people, the measures are not sufficient for purposes of eradicating world poverty (Williams Jr.1990, p. 684). It is for this very reason that all UN member states unanimously adopted in September 2000 the Millennium Declaration. Many international organizations, which can be of help in uplifting the economic circumstances of the Aboriginal people, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, were consulted in the process of creating a roadmap, complete with associated targets and indicators. The first goal of the Millennium Declaration, for instance, was the complete eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, such as the one that threatens to wipe out the Aboriginal people. Such a platform constitutes an international duty for all states.
However, this is not to say that national governments such as the Australian commonwealth government has no role to play in bringing the Aboriginal people out of poverty and economic rights abuses. Indeed, the government is responsible for creating sound domestic economic institutions and policies for promoting job creation and income grown among the Aboriginal people. The elements within the government who seem to be waiting for the Aboriginal race to die out should be forced to change their mindset or to quit service in the government. National human rights groups should stress the reality of the inverse statistical relationship that exists between growth and the number of people in poverty.
A clarification on what is meant by economic rights can best be made through reference to three main documents: the UDHR of 1948, the ICESCR and ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). These last two were passed in December 1966 and started being implemented in March 1976. These three documents constitute what is known as the International Bill of Human Rights. Incidentally, the notions enshrined in these documents such as purposive agency, autonomy, human dignity, and human need can also be used to raise awareness on the need to safeguard and respect the Aboriginal people’s human rights in their entirety (Charlesworth 2008, p. 53).
strengths and weaknesses of framing both the situational
analysis and practical program for action within a human rights framework
The main strength derived through the framing of the situation analysis of the human rights abuses against the Aboriginal people and the practical program of advocacy against economic rights abuses is that a connection between human rights abuses and economic deprivation is established (Public Interest Advocacy Centre, 2009, p. 9). This relationship is a formidable basis on which the Australian Commonwealth Government can be influenced into responding positively to the economic, social, and cultural needs of the aboriginal people, by local and international human rights advocates (Jackson 2005, p.107)
National and international human rights advocates also gain the strength of singling out the cruel nature of various programs of the Australian government that facilitate, albeit implicitly, human rights violations against the country’s Aborigine communities. This strength is easily generated in the form of reference to the International Bill of Human Rights.
The other strength of the practical engagement in efforts against human rights abuses against this community is the embodiment of the spirit of the Millennium Declaration into the circumstances and aspirations of the Aboriginal people. In light of this declaration and the international bill of rights, it becomes obvious that various international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF should help the Aborigines out of their economic quagmire.
The main weaknesses of the practical measures of dealing with Aboriginal people’s human rights violations that are highlighted above are twofold. First, it is difficult for international human rights bodies to act decisively against an adamant Australian Commonwealth Government. Moreover, radical measures by the UN may seem unjustified from the face of it, owing to the long history of human rights abuses that are now perceived by many as the norm, as well as the gradual manner in which the devastating effects of human rights abuses affect the aboriginal people. Secondly, the initiative of the Aboriginal people themselves may be lacking because of the ripple effect of marginalization, thereby rendering useful programs such as those initiated by the IMF and World Bank, extremely difficult to implement locally.
In summary, the Aboriginal people have been an abused community for a very long time. Their survival depends on the measures that will be adopted both nationally and internationally in order to stop human rights violations. There is an abundance of national and international documentation on freedom against human rights abuse. Because of economic rights abuses, the Aboriginal people have been relegated to the fringes of the Australian economy. The Millennium Declaration provides an ideal platform for human rights advocates to pressure the Australian Commonwealth Government into adopting economic policies that create economic opportunities for the Aboriginal people as well as improving their living standards.
An-Na’im, A, 1992, Human rights in cross-cultural perspectives: a quest for consensus, Pennsylvania University Press, Pennsylvania.
Beetham, D,1995, ‘What Future for Economic and Social
Studies, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 41-60.
Charlesworth, H, 2008, Writing in rights: Australia and the protection of human rights, University of South Wales Press, Sydney.
J, 2003, ‘International Human Rights Regimes’, In Donnelly, J,
Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice 2nd ed., Cornell
University Press, New York.
General Assembly of the United Nations, 1966, International
Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Retrieved from http://www.2ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm on October 8, 2010.
General Assembly of the United Nations, 1966,
International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights, Retrieved from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
General Assembly of the United Nations, 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights. New York: General Assembly of the United Nations, Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ on October 8, 2010.
Hertel, S, & Minkler, L, 2007, Economic Rights: The
Paper 1, Economic Rights Working Paper Series. Human Rights Institute, University
of Connecticut, Retrieved from http://www.econ.uconn.edu/working/1.pdf on October 8, 2010.
Jackson,S, 2005, ‘Recognition of Aboriginal rights, interests and values in river research and management: Perspectives from northern Australia’ Ecological Management & Restoration, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 105–110.
McNeil, K, 2004, ‘The Vulnerability of Indigenous Land Rights in Australia and Canada’. Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 42, No.4, pp. 271-301.
Mercer, D, 1993, ‘Terra nullius, aboriginal sovereignty and land rights in Australia: The debate continues’, Political Geography, Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 299-318.
Interest Advocacy Centre, 2009,Protecting Human Rights in Australia: A
Community Education Kit, Retrieved from http://piac.asn.au/publications/hrkit.html on October 8, 2010.
M, 2004,Advancing Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: The Way
Forward, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 2. Pp. 866-872.
Williams, Jr., R, 1990, ‘Encounters on the Frontiers of International Human Rights Law: Redefining the Terms of Indigenous Peoples’ Survival in the World’ Duke Law Journal, Vol. No. 4, pp. 660-704.
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