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|So.. will you bomb Australia now Mr Clinton?|
|08/30/00 at 08:07:37|
|Australia to restrict U.N. access |
29 August 2000
Stung by criticism over its treatment of Aborigines and other issues, the Australian government says it will restrict visits by U.N. human rights inspectors and urged an overhaul of the U.N.'s committee system.
After hearing the results of a review of Australia's involvement with U.N. committees, the Cabinet announced it would scale down its contact with the global body and would not ratify a protocol to the Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government would no longer allow U.N. committees to visit Australia nor would it meet their requests for information unless there was a "compelling reason" to do so.
"The Cabinet's decided that Australia's strategic engagement with the treaty committee system should depend on the extent to which effective reform can occur," Downer told reporters.
The hardening of the government's stance follows recent criticism by U.N. committees on human rights and environmental issues in Australia.
Earlier this year, the U.N. Human Rights Committee found that mandatory sentencing laws in two Australians jurisdictions discriminated against Aborigines, and criticized the government for failing to overrule them.
Australia's original inhabitants, Aborigines, are a minority of 386,000 mostly impoverished people in a population of 19 million. After 212 years of white settlement, Aborigines are the least–employed, least–educated, least–healthy and most–jailed segment of Australian society.
U.N. committees also criticized the government's policy of holding illegal immigrants in detention camps while their refugee applications are considered, and for allowing uranium mining in a World Heritage listed park.
Human Rights organization Amnesty International attacked Tuesday's announcement, accusing the government of wanting to be accountable only to itself.
"This is an irresponsible overreaction to recent poor report cards," said Kate Gilmore, Amnesty's Australian director.
"The government is not acting in the interests of all Australians. It has clearly signaled its willingness to dismiss the rights of the vulnerable as secondary to the needs of the state," she said.
Australia's Labor opposition said the announcement would give please the world's dictators.
"It will give comfort to the Saddam Husseins of the world, to the Burmese military regime, to all those despots around the place who hate the idea of international scrutiny," said Laurie Ferguson, Labor's foreign affairs spokesman.
Downer said the new restrictions were designed to ensure that "the primary role of democratically elected governments and the subordinate role of nongovernment organizations is recognized."
Attorney–general Daryl Williams accused U.N. committees of concentrating on relatively minor issues in democratic countries like Australia while ignoring more serious abuses in others.
"If we are comparing it (Australia's record) with arbitrary arrests and executions and having your arms chopped off, the problems in Australia pale into insignificance," Williams said.
Australia has been a member of the United Nations since its inception in 1945.
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