Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Geneva, Switzerland
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UN Human Rights Council – 21st Session

Panel discussion to commemorate International Nelson Mandela International Day

Australian statement, 21 September 2012

Australia was pleased to work with South Africa on the first panel inspired by Nelson Mandela, and we are pleased to participate again today. Australia remains a strong supporter of this Council’s focus on how the international human rights system can be harnessed effectively to combat racism.

Racial equality is a core priority for Australia both domestically and internationally. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived on our lands and waters for many thousands of years. They continue to suffer the consequences of colonization. Disadvantage passed down through the generations manifests in over-representation in criminal justice processes and substantially poorer outcomes across all areas of life. In recent decades we have begun to acknowledge and grapple with the consequences of this. We recognise the importance of acknowledging historical injustice and of reconciliation. That is why in 2008 the Australian Parliament issued a formal apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples for past mistreatment and injustices. We continue to work hard with our Indigenous peoples to close the gap of disadvantage. We have made great strides in addressing these issues, but we recognise that more remains to be done.

Throughout the twentieth century, waves of migrants came to Australia under many circumstances and from many places. Each wave of migration challenged and ultimately changed us as a society. Today 46 per cent of people living in Australia were born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas. We have one of the highest proportions of overseas-born residents in the world. This has not always been an easy journey. But embracing the changes that come with accepting migrants from many places continues our rich tradition of cultural diversity and contributes directly to our ongoing economic growth and prosperity.

Australia continues to strive to seek racial equality for all its peoples. We were proud to launch in 2011 our multicultural policy and, just weeks ago, our National Anti-Racism Strategy. We will continue to be vigilant in seeking to promote those values embodied by Nelson Mandela: reconciliation, freedom and racial equality.

We encourage a greater focus on these issues throughout the UN system and by other international organisations. This will assist the provision of technical assistance to member states who are working to pursue domestic initiatives on racial equality. We would be interested in the panelist’s views on how work on this important issue could be best coordinated throughout the UN to avoid fragmentation. We are also interested in what expertise the members of the Committee on the Elimination and Racial Discrimination may be able to share with the broader UN system, and how this could be facilitated. Finally, we would welcome Mr Gurry’s views on how WIPO’s work protecting the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples can help secure racial equality.