It is the first time Australia has been elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
Australia’s Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove has made the country’s first address as a UN Human Rights Council member, saying Australia is “deeply committed” to promoting equality for all.
Australia was elected for a three-year term on the Council in October last year, alongside Angola, Ukraine and Afghanistan.
Sir Peter told the council, Australia will use its new position to promote freedom of expression, the non-discrimination and non-violence of LGBTI people, and religious freedoms.
Australia will also work to advance the rights of Indigenous people, he said.
“We have a duty to promote the rights of the most vulnerable, oppressed, discriminated communities, and to seek universality of human rights to all parts of our world,” Sir Peter said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the council seat was a great achievement for Australia.
But she has responded to those critiquing the government’s refugee and asylum seeker policy, telling the ABC Australia is a worthy member.
“Australia has one of the proudest records of bringing in refugees,” Ms Bishop said.
“Since the Second World War, 865,000 people have come to Australia on refugee and humanitarian visas. Every year we resettle 18,750 people on refugee visas.
“It is a record that Australians should be proud of and it is certainly one that I am prepared to have scrutinised by the Human Rights Council and any other nation around the world.”
‘Xenophobes and racists’
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein took aim at the “xenophobes and racists in Europe” during his last address at the UN Human Rights Council.
Mr al-Hussein started with Hungary, singling out President Viktor Orban.
Mr Orban built a double razor wire fence in 2015 along the country’s border with Serbia and Croatia at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis.
The fence became the symbol of anti-migrant sentiment in Europe, a notion which Mr al-Hussein condemned.
“Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said we do not want our colour to be mixed in with others,” Mr al-Hussein said.
“Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity?”
Mr al-Hussein also criticised Poland’s President Andrzej Duda for comments where he “blamed the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust”.
“We give this disgraceful calumny so little attention,” Mr al-Hussein said.
“The question must be asked: ‘Have we all gone completely mad?'”
Poland has not responded to the criticism, but Hungary rejected Mr al-Hussein’s comments.
The country’s foreign minister Peter Szijjarto demanded the resignation of the High Commissioner during his address to the council.
“Hungary is currently a Hungarian country and we want to preserve that because this is our right,” he said.
“Of course we hear the critics and the constant accusations, but we reject them.”
(First published on SBS News on February 27 2018)