A recent report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JCFADT) identified the Asia-Pacific region as ‘diverse and complex’ with a ‘mosaic of human rights challenges’. The Committee highlighted gender discrimination and violence, human trafficking, capital punishment, restrictions on freedom of expression and association, and profound poverty, among others. The Committee identified a ‘clear need to enhance mechanisms to protect human rights and to redress human rights violations’.
On Australia’s role, JCFADT found that Australia is ‘well placed to foster discussion and progress on a cooperative approach to human rights challenges facing the Asia-Pacific’. It concluded that Australia has a ‘significant’, albeit ‘sensitive and cooperative’ role to play in the promotion and protection of human rights in the region.
So what concrete commitments would a human rights-focused policy on engagement with the Asia-Pacific include?
JCFADT recommended that the Australian Government should be ‘conscious of its human rights obligations in all of its regional relationships’, including in the area of trade.
JCFADT also recommended that AusAID ‘adopt a human rights-based approach’ to aid and development projects. This recommendation was underpinned by evidence that development and human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and that a human rights-based approach can enhance program effectiveness and efficiency. Both the OECD and the Overseas Development Institute have identified that the integration of human rights in all aspects of aid programming can deliver more effective, sustainable and value-for-money development outcomes.
In many countries in the Asia-Pacific, members of the security forces who are implicated in human rights abuses are neither investigated nor prosecuted. Australia is playing an increasing role in training foreign security forces through exchange programs and joint training exercises. Human rights should be central to these trainings both in content and in terms of who is invited to participate.
Check Thinking Points on Wednesday for further human rights policy recommendations.
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