8 Dec 2016

All Australians have a role to play in ending racism says UN expert

7:13 am on 8 December 2016

The UN Special Rapporteur on racism has called on all Australians to strengthen efforts to end racism, xenophobia and other forms of racial discrimination in the country, especially against indigenous people, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, Muslims, and persons of African descent.

"It is alarming to see that xenophobic hate speech, including by elected politicians, has been on the rise in Australia and cheered by sections of the mainstream media, contributing to reinforcing the negative perception of migrants, particularly Muslims and persons of African descent," Mutuma Ruteere said.

"Indigenous people and other groups in the country continue to face many challenges in all aspects of their lives," he said at the end of a fact-finding visit to Australia.

"Indigenous peoples are three times more likely to experience unemployment, they remain at the margin of economic progress and prosperity," the expert highlighted.

"The elimination of racism, xenophobia and discrimination will not happen unless it is led by the most senior political leadership and unless institutions such as the media play a constructive role", he said.

Mr Ruteere urged the Government to show leadership and respect diversity in a country where one out of two Australians is either born overseas or has at least a parent born outside the country.

He also further hailed the work and efforts of the civil society and the Australian Human Rights Commission towards equality of all.

But he also regretted that indigenous languages and cultures are absent or rarely integrated in the educational programmes and called upon the authorities to develop appropriate curriculum for indigenous communities.

Regarding the current debate on Section 18 C) of the Racial Discrimination Act, prohibiting hate speech, the expert noted that this provision "sets the tone of an open, inclusive and multicultural Australia which respects and values the diversity of its peoples and protects indigenous and migrants against bigots and extremists who have become more vocal in Australia and other parts of the world".

"I call upon the Government to maintain this section as a mean to protect discriminated groups against bigots and extremists," he said.

He called upon political leaders to denounce and censure this kind of divisive and racist rhetoric and urge the media to resist the tempting descent into racist, and xenophobic stereotyping rhetoric and scapegoating.

The expert was also informed of threats and incidents of anti-Semitism faced by the Jewish community in the country.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur appealed to the Australian Government to recognize constitutionally the role and rights of its indigenous peoples, to consider a broader Human Rights Bill, which would ensure protection against racism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination to all, in the form of a Constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During his visit, from 28 November to 5 December 2016, expert visited Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Alice Spring, where he met with Government officials at federal, state and territorial levels, legislative and judicial representatives, the Australian National Human Rights Commission, representatives of civil society organizations and of the UN system, as well as individual working in the field of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The conclusions and recommendations of this visit will be developed in a comprehensive report that will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.

Mutuma Ruteere, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, briefs the Human Rights Council. 2014

Mutuma Ruteere, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, briefs the Human Rights Council. Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré