Permanent Mission of Australia
to the United Nations
New York

6 November 2012 - Statement to the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee


6 November 2012

Agenda item 69: Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Statement by Ms Tanisha Hewanpola, First Secretary, Australian Mission to the United Nations


Thank you Mr President.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights remains the cornerstone of our international human rights framework. In it, the drafters enshrined inalienable rights: freedom of thought and religion; freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to enjoy these freedoms without distinction. My delegation stands firm in its strong commitment to protect these crucial overarching principles. The past year has reminded us all of the truly universal nature of human rights. Millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East continue to demand their rights of democratic expression.

As a proud multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multicultural society, Australia encourages respect for religious differences and firmly protects the right of people of all religions to practice their beliefs without intimidation or harassment. Australian legislation protects these rights, and our multicultural policy advances initiatives that support harmonious relationships between people of different religious backgrounds and cultures. We are proud to have co-sponsored both of the Committee’s resolutions on the elimination of intolerance based on religion or belief last year, and hope to work with all delegations to preserve the consensus we achieved.

We also firmly believe in the freedom to voice one’s opinions and beliefs, whether individually or in company, as a longstanding and essential feature of the international framework of human rights and as a critical element in the effective functioning of democracy. We also acknowledge that as times and technologies change and our voices become heard through an increasing range of media: television, radio, the press and the internet, the application of the freedoms of expression and opinion also apply to those new media.

Australia unequivocally deplores all acts of violence that are instigated on the basis of discrimination against a person’s religion or beliefs, as well as those that are provoked by a lack of tolerance for freedom of expression. We are deeply concerned about recent violence that has stemmed from the conflicting exercise of these two freedoms. These events demonstrate the fine balance that we need to preserve between freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief. Australia believes that governments have a responsibility to encourage a healthy community dialogue on cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity that allows for expression of opinions and exchange of views while respecting diversity. Communities that enjoy a genuine understanding of their cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious roots are the most robust and resilient. Equally, acts of violence must never be tolerated and the perpetrators of such violence must be brought to justice and such violence condemned. We, in this Committee, must do our part to ensure the UN itself continues to promote those principles.

Mr President,

Australia remains deeply concerned by the deplorable human rights and humanitarian situations in the Syrian Arab Republic. While the weight of evidence points to gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law on the part of the Syrian Government, we call on all parties to respect their legal obligations and to protect the rights of all Syrians, particularly the most vulnerable. Those responsible for the violations committed across Syria must know they will be held to account. We call on the Syrian Government to abide by a cease-fire and end the violence.

Australia condemns the wide-spread human rights abuses occurring in Iran, including the use of the death penalty, intimidation and arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders and political activists, violation of political and media freedoms, and unfair trials. Australia is deeply concerned by policies and practices that discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities, including Arab Iranians, Baha’is and religious converts, as well as women and girls. We continue to urge Iran to engage in a transparent manner with UN human rights mechanisms, including with the Special Rapporteur on Iran.

Australia is deeply concerned about the ongoing instability and violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and particularly with ongoing human rights abuses.

In our own region, we remain deeply concerned about serious and systematic human rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, such as the use of torture and arbitrary detention. We urge the DPRK to strengthen the rights of women and people with disabilities and to engage constructively with the Special Rapporteur.

Australia welcomes the constitutional and electoral processes begun by the Fiji interim government and has provided $2.65 million in financial and technical support. However, further progress needs to be made to improve human rights - particularly freedom of speech, assembly and the media.

Australia welcomes the dramatic changes underway in Myanmar. The Myanmar government is undertaking unprecedented political, economic and social reforms, which offer the Myanmar people greater hope for peace and prosperity now than they have for decades. Australia welcomes these reforms and is committed to helping Myanmar navigate its chosen path through constructive engagement.

Mr President,

The road to universal enjoyment of human rights is a long and challenging one, but we have already come a long way. We should be proud of our achievements, and remain firm in our determination to continue on that journey.

Thank you.