Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Switzerland, Liechtenstein


Human Rights Council 16th Session

Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Statement by Australia
10 March 2011

The Australian Government welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

Australia believes that interfaith dialogue is an important and effective means for broadening understanding among religions and promoting religious tolerance. In 2008, Australia upgraded its participation in the UN Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace to full member status. We are a friend of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Australia also co-sponsors our Regional Interfaith Dialogue with Indonesia, New Zealand and the Philippines and sponsors a wide range of grassroots interfaith projects in Southeast Asia. Australia encourages other governments to look for opportunities – through tools such as interfaith dialogue and education – to promote religious tolerance.

Australia’s multicultural policy, The People of Australia, celebrates religious, cultural and linguistic diversity as integral components of social and economic stability.
We thank the Special Rapporteur for his efforts in applying a gender perspective to considerations of freedom of religion or belief, to give high profile to the debate about women’s rights and religious activity.

We also thank the Special Rapporteur for his important work in overcoming religious prejudice and discrimination, including by promoting understandings of religion and belief through schools. We agree with the Special Rapporteur that the school constitutes the most important formal institution for the implementation of the right to education.

The centrepiece of Australia’s Human Rights Framework is an investment of more than $12 million over four years in a suite of human rights education and training initiatives for schools, communities and the Commonwealth public sector.

The Australian Government also welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Australia recognises the important role that human rights defenders, such as individuals, civil society institutions, groups and national human rights institutions, play in protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national, regional and international levels.

We strongly support NHRI involvement in international human rights mechanisms globally, including the Human Rights Council. We also recognise and respect the role civil society plays in defending human rights, and in working with States towards better human rights outcomes.

Australia remains deeply concerned about the use and threat of violence against and intimidation and arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders worldwide.

We share the Special Rapporteur’s deep concern about violence against and harassment of women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues.

Australia is particularly appalled by the use of gender-based violence, ranging from verbal and sexual harassment and rape, to intimidate and punish women defenders.

We join the Special Rapporteur in reminding States of the primary responsibility to protect individuals, including women defenders, those working on women’s rights gender issues and human rights defenders in general, under their jurisdiction.

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s call for a gender perspective in national and regional security measures designed to address the particular risks and security needs of women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues.

We would like to thank both Special Rapporteur for their outstanding work over the past year to fulfil their important mandates, and welcome their conclusions and recommendations.