Relaxed & dumbing down

Australia's reputation in human rights

Elizabeth Evatt


If we truly wanted to stem the flow of asylum seekers, says Elizabeth Evatt in this article, should we not think globally? Should we not think about what Australia could do to prevent human rights abuses in the countries of origin and how we could do more to ensure basic standards of living in those countries? If we were to do that, we might understand that the world needs to work towards an effective and meaningful international system of human rights and that this must be necessarily linked to a fair and equitable global economic and financial system.


Globalisation and human rights

'Globalisation' is a term which is almost certain to attract hostility from many, especially when associated with trade and commerce. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), as a symbol of all that is wrong with globalisation, is a body much loathed by protesters, because it is run by a club of well-to-do nations, who are in league with powerful multinationals, and because it can enforce its rules against the weak through sanctions.

And yet there are areas, such as human rights, where there is a real need for globalisation, in the sense of the effective application of common minimum standards of protection from abuse. A matter for real concern is that in the globalisation of trade and commerce, a low priority is given to the human rights of the millions who are forced to participate on the terms dictated to them. Human rights organisations have called for human rights principles to be built into international trading laws and into the obligations of the WTO and other such organisations. But their efforts have not yet succeeded.

The Australian government accepts the globalisation of trade, but does not see the need for connections between trade and human rights. A few years ago, the Australian government rejected the inclusion of a human rights clause in a trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union.1 This was only one example of its resistance to any form of international monitoring of Australia's human rights record. The government's attitude is that it does not want foreigners daring to criticise Australia's human rights record or telling this country what to do. In maintaining this attitude, Australia is in danger of losing its reputation for the good work it has done in the United Nations over many years to develop an international human rights system and, instead, of being seen to undermine that system.


Australia's commitment to global human rights

Australia played an active role in the founding of the United Nations and in setting up the international system of human rights. Australia gained a lot of respect for its commitment to the new organisati