Commission Calls for Consistent Australian Position on Human Rights

Monday 22 November 2010

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has urged the Prime Minister to adopt a consistent approach to promoting human rights and democracy in the Asia/Pacific region.

The Commission’s call comes in response to Prime Minister Gillard’s comments on the release of Burmese political leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that Australia should seek to apply the same human rights standards to all its neighbours including Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

“The Prime Minister welcomed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, but called on Burma’s authorities to release other political prisoners and work towards free and fair elections and political reconciliation,” Mr Arndt said.

“We support those calls as they are consistent with a respect for the human rights of the people of Burma,” he said.

“However, we are concerned that Australia is not as strong an advocate of these values when it comes to other countries in the region,” he said.

“Why isn’t the Prime Minister publicly calling on Indonesia to release people in West Papua who have been jailed for flying flags and peacefully protesting?” he said.

“Why is there no decisive intervention to put an end to the brutal repression of Papuans who are not happy with the way they have been treated since Indonesia took control of the province in the 1960s?” he said.

“It seems to us that the Australian Government is equally reluctant to challenge the Sri Lankan Government’s treatment of the Tamil minority and its political opponents,” he said.

“There are long-standing concerns, both from inside and outside Sri Lanka, about the Government’s level of respect for human rights and democracy, but Australia seems more concerned with maintaining the on-going cooperation of the Sri Lankan Government in relation to stopping boat people coming to Australia,” he said.

“The legitimate concerns of indigenous West Papuans and Tamils should not be ignored if we are genuinely committed to human rights,” he said.

“People who are locked up or mistreated because of their political views in Sri Lanka or West Papua deserve the same strong advocacy as is being given to Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese people,” he said.

“At the same time, we should always be looking at our own human rights record and seek to address those issues where we have failed to respect the dignity of vulnerable people in our own land,” he said.

Mr Arndt said the Commission would continue to speak to the Government and local MPs and Senators about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, West Papua and in our region.

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

NB  This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right.  The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.

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