Thank you Mr President, Secretary-General, High Commissioner, Excellencies and distinguished delegates

As Australia was one of the eight nations to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was an original signatory, it is with some pride that I take the podium just months after the international community celebrated the Declaration's 70th anniversary.

The indivisibility, universality and inalienability of human rights are principles that Australia has consistently championed – through the efforts of Australian Doc Evatt in the drafting of the United Nations Charter during the San Francisco Conference, as an advocate for the Universal Declaration, and as a supporter of the creation of this august body in 2006.

Democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom and the right to all to dignity and respect – these values have guided Australians for generations.  And these are the values which Australia has sought to promote as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

Five fundamental principles are guiding our advocacy on this Council:

  1. Gender equality;
  2. Freedom of expression and association, freedom of religion;
  3. Good governance and robust democratic institutions;
  4. The rights of Indigenous peoples, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians; and
  5. Strong national human rights institutions.

I will focus some of my remarks today on freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief.  As a proud multicultural nation these tenets are an inherent part of Australia's national identity. 

We're a country in which one in four of us was born overseas – from all corners of the globe.  According to our most recent national census, over 130 religious traditions are observed in Australia.  This diversity brings richness and strength but it also brings challenges that require our l vigilance to ensure the indivisible and universal nature of the human rights of all Australians continue to be respected.

Religious freedom and tolerance are fundamental to open, multicultural and resilient societies.  Sadly, however, in 2019, there is no region globally – nor any single religious tradition – that does not experience some degree of religious intolerance or abuse.  In different parts of the world, persecuted religious communities exist – communities following Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and a myriad of belief systems and religions.

We are deeply concerned by this intolerance.  We are disturbed by the use of blasphemy laws to discriminate against religious belief or practice, targeting individuals and communities in order to settle personal scores and grievances.

And we are alarmed by restrictions – or worse – placed on populations based solely on their religious adherence, where the rights of whole communities are infringed.

The right to freedom of thought, conscience, belief and faith are not only inherent rights but rights which makes our societies richer, deeper and ultimately more compassionate.

As part of our longstanding commitment to these inalienable rights, Australia will also maintain our focus on supporting the work of this Council in response to situations of human rights concern as we have highlighted in our considered Universal Periodic Review statements, informed and complemented by direct bilateral and regional engagement with our friends and counterparts on these issues.

I want to reinforce that we are consistent and clear in our approach to these matters.

Sadly they are broad ranging but to name a few of recent concern: we welcome the ultimate release of Asia Bibi, we note the challenges facing democracy in Venezuela, we note the critical situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh, we note concerns in relation to the rights of women in Saudi Arabia, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi; we note the chilling restrictions placed on journalists and therefore the erosion of the free press in multiple locations; the treatment of Uighurs in China,  and the horrific humanitarian toll of conflict in Yemen and Syria.

Mr President

Consistent with our view that a strong, accountable and credible United Nations contributes to peace, stability and dignity worldwide Australia will continue to work with all States to strengthen this Council

Part of these efforts must be to ensure a balanced agenda which considers the human rights challenges of all member states.  As has been our longstanding position since the inception of the Human Rights Council in 2006, for over 12 years, Australia opposes in principle the existence of Item 7 of the Agenda of the Council.  It is our firm view that a separate agenda item focussing on a single country situation – in this case Israel – is inappropriate.  It does not occur in any other context, for any other country.

Australia continues to advocate for international efforts which enhance prospects for a two-state solution where Israel and a future Palestinian state exist side-by-side in peace within internationally recognised borders. 

Another critical element of ensuring consideration of the full range of human rights challenges before us is the actual diversity of the membership of this Council. 

We warmly welcome Fiji in joining the Council this year, the first ever Pacific Island member, and we welcome the Republic of Marshall Islands' candidacy for 2020.

I want to acknowledge the presence of Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, here today and his remarks to the Council.

A voice from the Pacific region is an important part of this Council's deliberations.  One year in to our term we are pleased to have been able to engage closely with our Pacific island neighbours to promote the interests and concerns of our region. 

We have brought focus on the particular barriers faced by people with disabilities in the region and the valuable work of the Pacific to increase women's participation in public life, especially those who live in rural and remote communities.  During this session we are working with our neighbours to highlight the important issue of modern slavery in the fishing industry.

Mr President

We also believe that respecting fundamental human rights and freedoms, and building them into the fabric of society, makes Australia and the world safer and more secure.

We seek to maintain and build on the rules and institutions that have provided the basis upon which universal human rights are protected and promoted.

Global abolition of the death penalty, ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the protection of the rights of LGBTI people, freedom of religion, advancing Indigenous peoples rights globally, championing the rights of people with disabilities, promoting gender equality and supporting the role of civil society and national human rights institutions will continue to be priorities for us for the remainder of our term and beyond.

I can assure you, Mr President, that Australia's commitment to human rights goes to the core of who we are as a nation and we look forward to advancing these values on this Council in 2019.

I wish this Council all the best for their deliberations this session.

Thank you.

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