Every 10th of December, we celebrate Human Rights Day, which holds true for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It is the day that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Office of the High Commissioner and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the United Nations' main human rights official, play a significant part in organising the annual celebration of Human Rights Day. However, human rights violation is still rampant especially in the Indigenous community. Let’s dig deep on these human rights issues and how we can make a difference.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a landmark declaration that affirms the intrinsic rights that every person has as a human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth, or other background. It is the document that has been translated into the most languages, with over 500 available.
Although the Declaration is not legally enforceable, it served as the model for more than 60 other documents that collectively make up the global standard for human rights. The universal agreement of all United Nations Member States on the fundamental human rights outlined in the Declaration today strengthens it and highlights the importance of human rights in our day-to-day lives.
The Assembly enacted Resolution 423 (V) in 1950, inviting all States and relevant groups to proclaim December 10 as Human Rights Day. This was the official start of Human Rights Day.
What it Means for First Nations People in Australia
Australian Human Rights Commission enumerated relevant human rights and freedoms:
- Adequate standard of living
- Access to physical and mental health
- Freedom and safety from violence
- Land, territories and resources protection and recognition
- Preservation and enjoyment of culture and languages
- Equal treatment under the law
However, Indigenous peoples in Australia still face astounding human rights injustice. Some of our communities don’t have access to clean running water or basic services. Cultural sacred sites and land are still being stolen today.
Image from Sydney Criminal Lawyers
This divide is particularly prevalent when it comes to incarceration. There have been over 500 Indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 royal commission. The Greens senator, Lidia Thorpe, recognises this already as a “national crisis”
“Because of the ongoing effects of colonisation, land dispossession, forced separation of families and attempts to destroy our culture, our people are the most incarcerated on Earth.” - Lidia Thorpe
Also, incarceration rates and age of Indigenous children are high. In Australia, a kid as young as 10 can still receive a prison sentence in almost all states and territories, despite calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility. According to data from 2020, 74% of those who were incarcerated were children of Aboriginal descent.
In an article by SBS news we hear about Leroy (not his real name), who at 10 years old, spent his first night in jail when Western Australian police officers found his fingerprints at the site of a burglary. He claims that Banksia Hill has been violent and confronting. He says to have endured several strip searches, assaults from other inmates, verbal abuse from guards, and isolation. He also saw a guard break the arm of another Indigenous boy. These stories of human rights violation take place every day in Australia.
First week of December 2022, a meeting of the Attorneys-General across the country will be held, with the agenda of considering raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14. This is far better than what we have for the past years, however public pressure is still needed. We need to let politicians know we demand better for our children.
Indigenous peoples continue to face human rights violations in many aspects of life as a result of Australia's failure to uphold their fundamental human rights. All indicators of quality of life in Australia show a clear disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people's experiences.
In our daily lives, we can take steps to defend the freedoms that all people are entitled to, strengthening our shared humanity in the process.