26 September 2023

Human Rights heading to wrong future

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The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is at risk of losing its A-status as a National Human Rights Institution following a review by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).

According to the AHRC, the review, which is conducted every five years by the international standards body, considers whether the Commission meets the United Nations’ Principles on National Institutions, commonly known as the Paris Principles.

It said the Paris Principles establish whether national human rights commissions operate with the necessary level of institutional independence.

In its report, GANHRI’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) raised concerns with the Australian Attorney-General’s ability to bypass the requirement for an open and merit-based selection process.

It said such appointments would “have the potential to bring into question the legitimacy of the appointees and the independence” of the Commission.

“It is critically important to ensure the formalisation of a clear, transparent and participatory selection and appointment process for a National Human Rights Institution’s decision-making body, and the application of established process in all cases,” the SCA said.

“The SCA notes that the AHRC has advocated for changes to the selection process to ensure compliance with the Paris Principles, and call on it to continue to advocate for such changes.”

It noted that the Attorney-General had recently written to the Commission advising that future appointments would be openly advertised.

“However, the SCA is not satisfied that the commitment from the Attorney-General is sufficient to indicate that full compliance with the Paris Principles standards on selection and appointment will be forthcoming,” the SCA said.

The SCA also said that while it was not a ground for a deferral of accreditation, it had considered the fact that the AHRC had raised concerns about its funding levels.

The AHRC said that despite the appointments of two new Commissioners, a sustained increase in complaints of discrimination and human rights violations, and a substantial increase in complaints during the pandemic, it had not received any extra funding.

The Committee said that to function effectively, the AHRC “must be provided with an appropriate level of funding in order to guarantee its ability to freely determine its priorities and activities.”

It said Australia has about 15 months to address the matters raised in the review before a final decision is made in October 2023.

“The Committee has indicated that the Commission is at risk of being downgraded to a B-status NHRI if this issue is not sufficiently addressed within this timeframe,” the AHRC said.

“This is the first time the Commission has been at risk of losing its A-status as an NHRI since the establishment of international standards for National Human Rights Institutions in 1993,” it said.

The SCA’s four-page review report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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