The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

Media Release

FA6 - 20 January 2004 

Australia Elected Chair of UN Commission on Human Rights

I am pleased to announce that Australia has been elected as Chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for 2004.

Our Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Mike Smith, who was a Vice-Chair of the Commission in 2003, will fill this important role.

Australia has a long-standing commitment to protecting and promoting human rights around the world. We work for practical improvements through a combination of measures, including constructive bilateral dialogues, focused technical assistance to improve governance and participation in multilateral efforts to develop and promote international human rights standards.

The Commission draws global attention to human rights abuses, debates and promotes human rights norms, and directs and supports the efforts of related international bodies and mechanisms including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the various Special Rapporteurs who promote human rights universally.

In addition to the important work carried out by the Commission in Geneva, at the national level it is often national human rights institutions that are responsible for enhancing public awareness of human rights and investigating cases of abuse.  As Commission Chair, Australia will work to increase the Commission’s awareness of, and support for, this critical in-country work by promoting the importance of strong and independent national human rights institutions. 

Over the past few years, Australia has worked hard to strengthen and improve the operation of the United Nations human rights machinery.  The major focus of this work has been the Government’s treaty body reform initiative announced in 2000. Australia has already hosted three workshops in Geneva to promote treaty body reform.

As Commission Chair, we will continue to promote focused and effective consideration of human rights issues in the Commission, to ensure the organisation remains relevant and responsive to global demands for better observance of human rights standards.

Media inquiries:  Chris Kenny (Ministerial)  02 62777 500 - Julie McDonald (Departmental) 02 6261 1555

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