His Excellency Paramasivum Pillay Vyapoory, Acting President of the Republic of Mauritius
The Hon Maneesh Gobin, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Institutional Reforms
Mrs Rita Venkatasawmy, Ombudsperson for Children
Mr Amirdine Mohamed, Mayor of Mutsamudu, Anjouan, Union of Comoros
Mr Roshan Rajroop, President of Dis-Moi
Mr Lindley Couronne, Director Regional Secretariat, Dis-Moi
Ms Astrid Bauwens, Learnbox
Representatives of the NGO community
Members of the press
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for joining us here today as we launch Dis-Moi’s South West Indian Ocean on-line training program in human rights education. It is an honour to be launching this project in the presence of such important actors across government, judiciary, civil society – the defenders and promoters – of human rights in Mauritius and the region. This is a reflection of Mauritius’ commitment to human rights – a commitment and priority that Australia shares.
As a regional program – recognising I am accredited to Comoros, Madagascar and Seychelles, I am particularly pleased to acknowledge the Mayor of Mutsamudu in Anjouan, Comoros for this important event. And I look forward to the project being officially launched in Comoros later this year.
Human rights underpin peace and prosperity. Australia’s experience is that building fundamental human rights and freedoms into the fabric of society makes us safer, more prosperous and more secure. And we are committed to advancing human rights globally. Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper affirms my country’s commitment to a strong multilateral human rights system including the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).
The project that we are launching today is being financed by the High Commission’s Direct Aid Program, a flexible small grants program aimed at achieving practical and tangible developmental or humanitarian outcomes in vulnerable communities which support the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Each year the High Commission identifies priority sectors for funding with a focus this year on:
- Women’s economic empowerment;
- Human rights and governance;
- Education; and
- Disaster Risk Management
Inclusiveness and support for persons with disability is a cross-cutting priority.
The Australian High Commission is pleased to support a number of projects in the region focussed on human rights and governance.
This year in Comoros we provided support to programs to encourage increased female participation in local elections and train and raise awareness around violence against women and minors. In Madagascar we are supporting Handicap International to improve access to education for girls and boys with disabilities and have partnered with the UNDP to strengthen the capacity of media professionals and provide support to national institutions as part of the UNDP’s SACEM electoral support project to help strengthen the capacity of the Malagasy Electoral Commission. Here in Mauritius we are also working with Transparency International and the Mauritius Police Force on training in good governance.
Australia is a nation that believes in the equal rights of all human beings. Australia believes that human rights are universal, and that all people are entitled to respect, dignity and legal protection regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As a founding member of the United Nations, and one of only eight nations involved in the drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights - which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year - Australia maintains the view that human rights deliver peace, security and prosperity to Australia and the world.
Australia is proud to take up a seat on the Human Right’s Council this year for a three year term. Our membership enables us to contribute to shaping the international community’s response to some of the world’s most pressing human rights issues.
Internationally, and within the HRC, Australia will champion gender equality as it is vital to achieving inclusive economic development, peace and security.
All women and girls deserve the right to live free from violence, to control their bodies, go to school, participate fully in political processes and earn equal pay for equal work, free from harassment. Violence against women is unacceptable, anywhere, anytime, and it is to our collective shame that no country is free from it, including in Australia where at least one woman is killed by a partner or former partner every week, one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15, and one in five Australia women has experienced sexual violence. Gender inequality is the root cause of violence against women and with movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp – there is clearly a global momentum to press for progress on gender equality. In Mauritius, we have worked with the Gender Ministry, the police, emergency services, the judiciary, and local NGOs on gender based violence.
The Sustainable Development Goals recognise the elimination of violence against women is fundamental to our future prosperity – and all forms of violence including trafficking, and sexual and other types of exploitation must be addressed in the public and private spheres. Australia is committed to eradicating crimes of human trafficking and modern slavery introducing strong domestic reporting and proposed legislation. Our domestic efforts complement our activities in the region and globally including Australian leadership in Alliance 8.7 which partners governments, UN agencies, business and civil society to tackle forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour.
In line with Australia’s values as a democracy, we will also stand up for freedom of expression, recognising too the vital role the media plays in vibrant and robust democracies.
Internationally, Australia will promote good governance and the importance of democratic institutions, which foster human rights and help to create stable societies and productive economies.
As home to the world’s oldest continuous cultures, Australia will work to advance the human rights of indigenous peoples globally.
And we will support strong national human rights institutions, working with our partners to build capacity in this area – recognising the importance of independent institutions to ensure transparency and accountability.
Other core objectives for Australia as a serving member of the Human Rights Council include: supporting civil society participation, freedom of religion and belief, the rights of persons with a disability, and the rights of LGBTI communities.
Australia’s commitment to human rights reflects our national values and is an underlying principle of Australia’s engagement with the international community. It is in Australia’s national interest to protect and promote human rights, uphold the international rules based order and shape the work of the United Nations. Our great ethnic and cultural diversity gives us the capacity to understand global human rights issues, including from an Indo-Pacific perspective.
Australia has welcomed more than 7 million migrants—including 800,000 refugees that came in waves since the Second World War—in a population today of 24 million people.
Like Mauritius, the rule of law underpins the way Australian society is governed. Everyone—including citizens and the government—is bound by, and entitled to, the benefit of laws. Our legislative frameworks, which are reviewed regularly, must fairly and robustly protect fundamental freedoms and human rights. We advance the rule of law internationally by actively promoting adherence to the global rules-based system and helping to build effective governance and stable institutions.
Australia recognises that all countries are on a journey when it comes to realising human rights and that no country has a perfect human rights record. Within our robust engagement with the UN human rights system, Australia does not shy away from consideration of our own record, including welcoming constructive dialogue with UN bodies and through the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review. Our work with the HRC is undertaken with a spirit of self-reflection and a view to improve our own human rights situation.
Domestically, Australia is a migrant nation that is proud of our vibrant and diverse civil society, with which the Government consults on a regular basis, including to identify and address human rights concerns. We are committed to working with our diaspora communities who, regardless of origin, enjoy full rights and protections under Australian law.
Australia acknowledges that improvements have been made in the situation for Indigenous people in recent decades but these improvements have not been fast enough to close the gap in disadvantage between First Peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. In 2008, the Australian Parliament passed a motion of Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples for past mistreatment and injustices, especially the Stolen Generations, who were Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families. Indigenous Affairs remains a national priority for the Australian Government and we are committed to improving the lives of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Australia believes in an international system in which the aspiration to achieve universal values and human rights is a strong norm and a driving motivation.
One of the core goals of Australia’s development assistance is to reduce poverty by boosting economic growth, and helping to ensure it includes the most vulnerable.
Australia’s women’s empowerment agenda directly supports women’s rights and is one of the most effective ways that Australia is helping communities in developing countries to break the cycle of poverty. Our Direct Aid Program has supported a Coaching and Mentoring Programme for Women Entrepreneurs in Mauritius (Rodrigues), Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles, launched during the Indian Ocean Regional Association (IORA) Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference held in Seychelles in 2016. In Madagascar, we are supporting capacity building to women in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector in Madagascar. And our Australia Awards scholarship program has equal beneficiaries of women and men.
These are however challenging times for all of us.
According to Freedom House, 2017 saw an overall drop in freedom around the world for the 12th consecutive year, with political rights and civil liberties deteriorating to their lowest point in more than a decade.
Some states are actively asserting authoritarian ideologies in opposition to open, democratic models of governance.
Increased engagement by a greater number of emerging powers, with divergent interests and values, is making finding consensus across the UN system more difficult.
Therefore, to promote a strong multilateral human rights system and to advance human rights, it is more important than ever that our countries work effectively with each other and speak up on these matters.
One area where Australia will step up its advocacy is the abolition of slavery. Australia believes as a matter of principle that the death penalty has no place in the modern world as it brutalises human society, is degrading and is an affront to human dignity. Australia supports the universal abolition of the death penalty and considers the death penalty to be deeply flawed. We are urging all countries that retain capital punishment as part of their law - whether or not they carry out executions - to remove references to the death penalty.
We know that human rights, in addition to being an end in themselves, are inextricably linked to sustainable economic development, regional stability and prosperity and that is why countries need to work closely with each other and include civil society and other stakeholders.
Civil society organisations, such as those of you present today, hold governments to account and help us to reflect on how we can improve our own human rights performance. We are therefore pleased to be partnering with Dis-Moi on this important regional program which will see similar human right’s education opportunities be offered to civil society groups in Rodrigues, Comoros, Madagascar and Seychelles and allow sharing and exchanging of views, issues and challenges.
I congratulate Dis-Moi and its partners on this initiative. I thank all those involved in this launch today – including the performers who have added something special to this event. And I reaffirm Australia’s commitment – in partnership with others – to continue to champion human rights in this region and globally.
27 June 2018