Report says Australia's reputation damaged by serious rights issues

HRW is warning the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States poses an extraordinarily dangerous threat to human rights. Source: HRW

SBS World News Radio: In its annual report Human Rights Watch warns the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States poses an extraordinarily dangerous threat to human rights.

The annual report from Human Rights Watch reviews the human rights status of more than 90 countries.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth released the report with a dire warning to the world.

"The global rise of populists poses an extraordinarily dangerous threat to human rights. Human rights exist to protect people from governments, yet today a new generation of populists is reversing that role. Claiming to speak for the 'people' they treat rights as an impediment to the majority will, a needless obstacle to defending the nation from perceived threats and evils."

The yearly report also criticises Russia, China, and Turkey's leaders for crackdowns on dissent, and Syria's Bashar al-Assad for targeting civilians.

Mr Roth says ignoring the lessons of history would be at our peril, and he highlights what he says is a worrying emerging global trend.

"We see a similar scapegoating of asylum seekers, immigrants, and especially Muslims in Europe. Leading the charge have been Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. But there are echoes of this intolerance in the Brexit campaign, the rhetoric of Viktor Orban in Hungary and Jaroslaw Kaminski in Poland, in far-right parties from Germany to Greece. Throughout the European Union, officials and politicians harken back to distant, even fanciful times of perceived national ethnic purity."

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson says a similar trend may be playing out in Australia, to a lesser extent.

"I think in Australia, although we're not seeing it to the same degree as other countries, certainly we have seen a resurgence of parties like One Nation, that also are seeking to scapegoat minority communities, whether they be foreigners, whether they be refugees, whether they be Muslim communities."

The report highlights ongoing areas of concern in Australia, including over asylum seeker policy, and the treatment of indigenous youth in detention.

Ms Pearson says while Australia is considered to be a strong multicultural democracy, with many rights and freedoms, some issues remain unresolved.

"But where Australia is a real outlier, compared to other, particularly Western nations, is in its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and while certainly there is some concern that some European nations or political parties might be looking to Australia to adopt this approach, certainly we don't think that this is an approach that works. We don't think that this is an approach that works. We don't think you can penalise a couple of thousand people and leave them to languish in limbo for years in detention as a symbol of deterrence. We'd be in dangerous territory if Europe or if other countries started to adopt similar policies."

Ms Pearson says while Australia had adopted counter-terror laws in response to the global terror threat, there are concerns the laws go too far, and may affect civil liberties.

"There's concern about control orders being extended to kids as young as 14, which would allow extreme limitations on their movement or communications. The other key area of concern with Australia's laws is post-sentence detention for people convicted of terrorism. And I think, once the government is going down a path of allowing people to remain in prison without actually being tried for offences, this is really chipping away at fundamental rights under our laws."


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