The appalling treatment of Human Rights Commission (HRC) president Gillian Triggs at the hands of Prime Minster Tony Abbott and Attorney General George Brandis has been well-documented over the last 24 hours.
Her HRC report, titled The Forgotten Children, found immigration detention was a “dangerous place for children” and this obviously struck a raw nerve with the government. Their attacks on her have been relentless.
Apart from the huge support for her in the social media, it appeared Ms Triggs had only a few friends.
But a new one* has emerged: the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC).
In a letter to Tony Abbott, ICC Chairperson Mabedle Lourence Mushwana raised grave concern at the persistent attacks on Triggs and the Australian Human Rights Commission. The ICC notes that “Public attacks have been made to the AHRC and Prof Triggs personally in relation to the release of the AHRC’s report entitled “The Forgotten Children: National Enquiry into Children in Immigration Detention”. Allegations that Prof Triggs was asked to resign have now also been confirmed”.
“These public attacks seek to call into question the independence of the office which Professor Triggs holds. It furthermore undermines and intimidates the statutorily granted independence that is provided to the AHRC as the country’s principal human rights body.
A national human rights institution (NHRI) such as the AHRC should not be hindered in investigating any matter of concern. In a healthy democracy, a NHRI report should be received within the spirit that the contents and recommendations contained therein are to further the adherence to international human rights norms and standards and ensure the promotion and protection of human rights.
Against this background, the Human Rights Council in September 2014 adopted a resolution on NHRIs, which was led by Australia, and which acknowledges the important role of NHRIs across national, regional and international human rights protection systems and encourages NHRIs to continue to play an active role in preventing and combating all violations and abuses of human rights.
The Human Rights Council resolution 25/27 on NHRIs specifically “recognises that NHRIs and their respective members and staff should not face any form of reprisal or intimidation, including political pressure, physical intimidation, harassment or unjustifiable budgetary limitations, as a result of activities undertaken in accordance with their respective mandates, including when taking up individual cases or when reporting on serious or systematic violations in their countries; (…)”.
The ICC Chairperson has kindly requested the Prime Minister to take note of these deep concerns and to address the matter. These concerns have also been communicated to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Al Hussein, Human Rights Council President, the United Nations Special Procedures as well as NGOs and the entire NHRI community in all regions, for their urgent consideration”.
Here is a copy of the letter to Tony Abbott:
Dear Prime Minister
Re: Recent events concerning the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs
I address this letter to you on behalf of the ICC Bureau and as Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (ICC), which is the United Nations (UN) recognised umbrella body of national human rights institutions (NHRIs). The ICC represents at an international level just over 100 NHRIs from around the globe, including 73 of which enjoy ‘A’ status at the UN.
It has been brought to my attention that in relation to the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC / Commission) report entitled “The Forgotten Children: National Enquiry into Children in Immigration Detention” (2014) there have been allegations that Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the AHRC, was asked to resign ahead of the public release of the report and that public attacks have been made against her personally. These public attacks seek to call into question the independence of the office which Professor Triggs holds and cause harm to her professional integrity. It further more undermines and intimidates the statutorily granted independence that is provided to the country’s principal human rights body.
These actions against an independent state body that is fulfilling its statutory duties to promote and protect human rights are of grave concern to the ICC. The AHRC is internationally recognised by the United Nations as Australia’s NHRI. It has been a member of the ICC since 1999 and has always enjoyed the much coveted “A” status that is granted to NHRIs following a rigorous accreditation process that is carried out by the ICC under the auspices of the OHCHR acting as Secretariat. This “A” status is only granted to NHRIs that comply fully with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (commonly referred to as the Paris Principles) (Adopted by General Assembly Resolution 48/134 of 20 December 1993). The Paris Principles set out the necessary guarantees of independence that are required in order for the NHRI to be regarded as truly independent.
These actions also take place against the background in which just last year, Australia was the lead sponsor of Human Rights Council resolution 25/27 on NHRIs. This Resolution “(e)ncourages NHRIs to continue to play an active role in preventing and combating all violations and abuses of human rights,” and “recognises that NHRIs and their respective members and staff should not face any form of reprisal or intimidation, including political pressure, physical intimidation, harassment or unjustifiable budgetary limitations, as a result of activities undertaken in accordance with their respective mandates, including when taking up individual cases or when reporting on serious or systematic violations in their countries;”.
Mr Prime Minister, Professor Triggs is highly respected within the international human rights community having held a distinguished career in law, including in the area of legal education. She is held in high esteem within the ICC, being one of the more active members who participates in many public events and has represented the ICC on occasion in various United Nations fora. She has also held the position of chairperson of the Commonwealth Forum for national human rights institution (CFNHR) and is greatly regarded for her leadership and human rights knowledge.
It is understandable and even to be expected that independent NHRI reports will contain information that is critical of government or unpopular, this is in order to bring attention to human rights that are being violated or areas in which human rights may be improved in a country; and particularly the human rights of those who are most vulnerable. An NHRI should not be hindered in investigating any matter of concern. In a healthy democracy a NHRI report should be received within the spirit that the contents and recommendations contained therein is to further the adherence to international human rights norms and standards and ensure the promotion and protection of human rights.
Finally and with the greatest respect, we request that you take note of our deep concerns and that you address the matter. In the interim, my office will be sharing our concerns with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and with our ICC members.
Advocate Mabedle Lourence MUSHWANA
CC: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Note: Special thanks to Kaye Lee and the AIMN readers who brought this to our attention.
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