FRESH AIR

Australia stands with Israel at Human Rights Council

Feb 26, 2019 | Naomi Levin

Foreign Minister Marise Payne addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne addresses the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Australia’s Foreign Minister has once again stood up for Israel during the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, currently underway in Geneva.

In her brief remarks to the Council, of which Australia is a member from 2018-2020, Foreign Minister Marise Payne focused on the importance of freedom of religion and freedom of expression. She told the Council: “As a proud multicultural nation these tenets are an inherent part of Australia’s national identity.”

For the first time at the high-level segment of the Human Rights Council, Australia also actively condemned the notorious agenda item 7; the only permanent agenda item that targets a single state: Israel.

“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,” Payne said.

“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.”

Payne’s comments were consistent with Australia’s actions last year, when Australia voted against all five resolutions under agenda item 7.

However, Australia’s previous statement to the Human Rights Council high-level segment was delivered by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, rather than a member of the Government, and did not refer to any specific countries or issues, including agenda item 7.

As well as standing for justice for Israel during this year’s Human Rights Council high-level segment, the Foreign Minister also emphasised the importance of religious freedoms.

“In different parts of the world, persecuted religious communities exist – communities following Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and a myriad of belief systems and religions,” she said. “We are deeply concerned by this intolerance.”

Among other examples, the Foreign Minister referred to the plight of Christian Pakistani mother Asia Bibi, who was jailed for blasphemy in the Muslim-majority country, the unequal treatment of women in Saudi Arabia and the subjugation of the Uighur minority in China.

“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,” Payne said.

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