25 March 2024
UN-believable! - Featured image

The UN Human Rights Council has no business lecturing Australia on the subject of human rights.

On 5 October this year, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a media release in which it urged Australians to vote ‘Yes’ at the referendum on a proposed Voice to Parliament.

The release said:

UN human rights experts* today urged all Australians to unite in support of the creation of a permanent constitutional body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to advise the Government on all matters that relate to them as the First Peoples of Australia … The Voice initiative will pave the way to overcome the colonial legacy of systemic discrimination and inequalities that have undermined the ability of Indigenous Peoples to realise their rights to development and self-determination …

Significantly, the asterisk alerted readers to the fact that the UN’s ‘experts’, also known as Special Rapporteurs, are appointed as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures but are not UN Staff and serve in their individual capacity. Given the current membership of its Human Rights Council, it’s unsurprising the UN is keen to put some distance between that body and its Special Rapporteurs.

The UN Human Rights Council currently has 47 members. The following are my personal favourites:

  • China – Violates human rights on an industrial scale. The previous UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on her last day in the job, bravely published a report into the fate of the Uyghur community in Xinjiang province which found that “restrictions and deprivation more generally of fundamental rights, enjoyed individually and collectively, may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity”.
  • Cuba – More than 60 years on, still honouring the example of Fidel Castro by consigning political dissidents and homosexuals to a web of prison camps or forcing them into exile. As of today, there are 1,042 political prisoners in Cuba, according to Prisoner Defenders International.
  • Eritrea – Human Rights Watch states: “Eritrea’s government subjects its population to widespread repression, including widespread forced labour and conscription, staunch restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion, and faith … Eritrea has no legislature, no independent civil society organizations or media outlets, and no independent judiciary … ”
  • Kyrgyzstan – The US State Department’s 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights cites: “… use of torture by law enforcement and security services; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom …”
  • Somalia – Are they serious?
  • Sudan – See above.

With regard to violations of religious freedom around the world, especially egregious offenders can be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” by the US Secretary of State on the recommendation of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Current members of the UN Human Rights Council recommended for this dubious distinction are:

Tier One (Countries of Particular Concern)


Tier Two (On the Watchlist)


So, the next time indignant Voice proponents tell you that Australia—by voting ‘No’ on 14 October 2023—has tarnished its international reputation as a great liberal democracy, direct their attention to the UN Human Rights Council and ask them to elaborate.

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