Foreign Minister: Australia Made to Look Like Monster by UN Committees

Published November 20th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

United Nations human rights committees often portrayed countries such as Australia as "monsters," while brutal regimes escaped with only minor reprimands, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Monday. 

"In practice, some committees were trying so hard to be even-handed that they gave a light slap on the wrist to countries everyone agreed were serious human rights offenders and made countries that take their treaty obligations seriously, like Australia, seem like monsters," Downer said. 

"The government's review of the UN treaty body system this year had its origins in our sense that the treaty system was not only drowning under its own weight, but had moved too far away from its original vision," Mr Downer said in a speech to a local human rights legal center. 

"Committees were set up to advise and assist state parties to fulfil their treaty obligations but are in practice sitting in judgment upon them or have become too burdened to cope with the volume of reports submitted under treaty obligations." 

While the treaty committees had contributed to the emergence of a remarkable human rights culture in international affairs, they had palpably failed to rid the world of ruthless dictators or serious human rights abuses, Downer said. 

A treaty committee in Geneva is currently examining Australia's observance of UN conventions outlawing torture. 

Aboriginal and human rights lobby groups have asked the committee to consider if the mandatory sentencing legislation of Western Australia and the Northern Territory constitute cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment outlawed by the treaty, to which Australia is a signatory. 

Mandatory sentencing is legislation that prescribes set penalties for violent crime and property offences, with no room for the judiciary to reduce the sentence or admit mitigating circumstances -- MELBOURNE (AFP)  





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