• The Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory. (AAP)Source: AAP
The latest assessment of the state of human rights in Australia shows little improvement when it comes to the lives of Indigenous peoples, asylum seekers and people living with a disability.
Rachael Hocking

19 Jan 2018 - 4:00 PM  UPDATED 19 Jan 2018 - 4:09 PM

2017 was a 'particularly dismal' year for Indigenous peoples' rights, according to the Australian Director of Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson. 

Once again the country is being called out for its incarceration of Indigenous peoples, particularly for minor offences like unpaid fines, and its treatment of juveniles in detention.

"If you're Indigenous, you're 13 times more likely to go to prison than non-Indigenous Australians, and that goes up to 25 times more likely for people in juvenile detention," Ms Pearson told NITV News. 

The findings form part of the Australian chapter of the Human Rights Watch 2018 World Report, which reviewed more than 90 countries. 

'A greater political will' required for change

Ms Pearson said the federal government's rejection of a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament was 'disappointing'. She said that while commenting on the specifics of the Uluru Statement fell outside of the report's mandate, an Indigenous body which would advise parliament was 'important'.

"We've been issuing these reports every year for the last five years and we've seen very little progress when it comes to these issues around discrimination and over-incarceration of Aboriginal people," she added.

"So we really need to think that now is the time for action, and that action will require a greater political will." 

Ms Pearson said beyond the over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system, it was the incarceration of people living with a disability which was most alarming.

"Over half of the prison population has a physical, sensory, psychosocial (mental health), or intellectual disability." the report reads. 

Ms Pearson said Human Rights Watch will be working with state governments in 2018 to improve outcomes for people living with disability in prison, including calling for an independent watchdog in every state and territory. 

The report had some praise for Australia, acknowledging Australia's legalisation of same-sex marriage and the Royal Commission into Juvenile Detention in the Northern Territory as steps forward.

But Ms Pearson said it is important that the recommendations from the Royal Commission, such as raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years, are implemented swiftly.

"A Royal Commission is the first step... but ultimately it is up to all of us to make sure that those changes come into practice, because at the moment they are just a set of recommendations on paper," she said. 

Just this week, Australia has been rocked by more allegations of abuse, with Amnesty International investigating claims that detainees at Western Australia's Banksia Hill Detention Centre have been "tortured" by being kept in solitary confinement for prolonged periods. 

"We know that other states also have a lot of these abuses being reported... I think every state could do more in terms of its better treatment of Indigenous people who are incarcerated," Ms Pearson said. 

She said the first COAG meeting of the year will present an opportunity for the state, territory and federal governments to make a renewed commitment to Indigenous rights. 

The HRW 2018 World Report is the latest to pass judgement on Australia's human rights record, following a scathing review from the UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz last year. 

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