Australia’s global human rights reputation has been marred by the government’s failure to address long-standing abuses against First Nations peoples, Human Rights Watch says in its annual report.
The New York-based rights group also highlighted the misuse of police powers during COVID-19 lockdowns, excessive restrictions on movement and the government’s continued treatment of asylum seekers.
“In 2020, the global Black Lives Matter movement refocused its attention in Australia on systemic racism and inequalities against First Nations, particularly high death rates in custody and over-representation in prisons,” said Elaine Pearson, Director of HRW Australia.
“Australian state and federal governments urgently need to prioritize reform of long-standing policies that discriminate against First Nations people,” she said in a statement.
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In 2020, at least seven indigenous people died in custody in Australia, where Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make up 29% of the adult prison population, but only 3% of the national population, according to the HRW report.
“Reducing incarceration rates requires systemic reforms, including repealing punitive bail laws and mandatory sentencing laws, decriminalizing public drunkenness, ending excessive community control. indigenous peoples and raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14, ”the report said.
HRW noted that in June, the Western Australian Parliament took a positive step by passing legislation to curb the practice of jailing people for unpaid fines, which disproportionately affects Indigenous peoples and those with low income. returned.
The HRW report called the offshore treatment of asylum seekers by the federal government “punitive, cruel and illegal”.
“The Morrison government continues to reject New Zealand’s offers to accept some of the 290 people who remain in Papua New Guinea and Nauru; 208 have been recognized as refugees and 23 have pending asylum claims. “
HRW also noted that police efforts to enforce curfews and lockdowns in the event of a pandemic raised concerns about free speech and the misuse of police powers.
“A series of cases of racial abuse and attacks against people of Asian descent have been reported across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic,” its report said.
“Australia has been very successful in containing COVID-19, but some police practices during the COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria threatened fundamental rights,” Pearson said.
HRW’s 761-page Global Report 2021 examines human rights practices in more than 100 countries.