I am very pleased to be here, for 2016 is the 20th anniversary of this very important Forum. It is an invaluable opportunity for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to bring together representatives of Australian and international NGOs. It is an opportunity to share our agendas. It is an opportunity to discuss common interests in promoting and protecting human rights at an international level.

In the last three years we have seen significant progress. There have been some milestones that I am particularly pleased about and have been following with great interest.

For example in 1998, the establishment of the International Criminal Court under the Rome Statute was a matter of great interest to me. At the time I was the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties that considered the rather controversial issue at the time. I am pleased that Australian came to play a leading role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

In 2007 the Universal Periodic Review was established. Also in 2007, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. In 2014 I attended the first World Indigenous Peoples Forum on Indigenous Rights and spoke at that meeting at UNGA Leaders’ Week in September of 2014. So these are significant milestones. We’ve seen a mainstreaming of women’s’ and gender issues, disability and Indigenous, LBGTI rights and I think that’s been very positive.

We’ve also seen a shift in attitude on the death penalty in countries around the world. I think there are now 105 countries that have abolished the death penalty and 60 countries have not used the death penalty in over a decade.  

That’s not to say there aren’t significant challenges that confront us.

The international rules-based order is under increasing pressure. There have been blatant breaches of sovereignty, putting the whole notion of sovereignty under pressure. The democratic principles that we hold dear, that our nation is founded upon, are also under pressure, internationally. I have just returned from the Small Group Coalition Meeting in Rome, the anti-Da’esh, anti-ISIL Coalition Meeting, and also in London the Syrian Humanitarian Donors Conference.  The endemic conflict in the Middle East and North Africa is deeply distressing, deeply concerning. The humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria and beyond is among the worst we’ve seen since the Second World War. So there is enormous pressure on the international community to do more.

In relation to the death penalty, as much as we have seen progress, there are also countries who are using the death penalty particularly in the fight against drug trafficking, and that’s a matter of deep concern as well.

So this Forum is timely. It provides great opportunities for us to share ideas and experiences. Australia is not perfect in the field of human rights, we can always do more, we can always do better in dealing with the challenges that we face. But we need to work in partnership with you – civil society is a vital partner for the Australian Government. As Foreign Minister I will continue to ensure that we work together to protect and promote human rights.

You will also be aware that 2016 is the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Human Rights Council, and I announced last year that Australia would seek a position on the Human Rights Council for the years 2018-2020. I am buoyed by the support we have had from other nations but it is a deliberative process and so we are working hard to gain a position on that council. I believe it is important for a country such as Australia, with a strong reputation as a multicultural human rights society committed to human rights, the rule of law and democratic institutions, it is important for us to have our views heard on the Human Rights Council. I’m certainly looking forward to working with other countries and the NGO community to do so.

I am delighted that you have gathered again here today and I’m certainly looking forward to the feedback from the Department on the issues that you’ve raised and the recommendations you’ve made, and the outcomes we are able to share today.

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