United Nations report is a human rights performance review that we should take seriously
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United Nations report is a human rights performance review that we should take seriously

This week a number of high-profile Australians have made rather broad brushed inflammatory condemnations of the whole United Nations organisation and its mechanisms. These off-the-cuff and thought bubble responses hold back Australia's best interests and damage the country's reputation as an upstanding global citizen that seeks to eliminate human rights abuses where ever they may occur.

The facts are that Australia and the UN have had an enduring and symbiotic relationship over many decades. Australia was a founding member of the UN in the late 1940s and was one of the eight nations involved with the original drafting of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

United Nations special rapporteur Juan Mendez.

United Nations special rapporteur Juan Mendez.

Australia has continuously been a strong supporter of human rights throughout international treaty negotiations and the country has ratified almost all major international human rights instruments. To provide a self-check mechanism the country has issued a standing invitation to UN human rights experts to visit and report on Australia as they see fit.

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Feedback from friends, especially when requested, regarding areas for improvement should be considered rather than angrily dismissed.

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is an independent investigator of the core UN machinery. Juan Mendez's global review report was written without fear or favour and will be considered by the UN Human Rights Council in due course. He and the UN Human Rights Council work solely to promote and protect human rights. They have no other mission.

Mendez's report should be taken to indicate possible – and, in some cases, very likely – deviations away from human rights norms, a canary in the coal mine of sorts. His investigations test all countries against international human rights law baselines, especially the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Australia has long supported and chosen to be a signatory to these important pillars protecting human rights.

The UN Special Rapporteur has simply provided Australia with a brief performance review against the goals they contain. How a country and its people choose to respond is entirely up to them.

Last year Australia was recognised for making an outstanding contribution as a temporary member of the UN Security Council particularly through the exemplary efforts of Australia's permanent representative to the United Nations Gary Quinlan and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Following that success, Australia is currently lobbying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. How it is seen to respond to human rights concerns domestically, both in sentiment and action, may influence other countries willingness to vote for Australia as it pursues this objective.

Australia's passion to aspire for a perfect human rights record is a very respectable ambition and sets a positive precedent that other countries can follow. To continually improve towards this goal the country has to be willing to listen to expert feedback. Sweeping, denigrating, undiplomatic remarks about the entire United Nations are unhelpful and misplaced.

Matthew Kronborg is the national executive director of the United Nations Association of Australia.

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