Australia’s peak human rights organisation is at risk of having its international ranking downgraded.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been warned it could be downgraded from an A accreditation to a B if it doesn’t make changes to ensure the independence of its leadership.
If downgraded, Australia would be relegated to an observer at the UN Human Rights Council.
Following a five-yearly assessment by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), the AHRC was not reaccredited as an A-status National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).
Instead the decision was deferred over concerns regarding the organisation’s selection and appointment process for commissioners.
Last year, the Morrison government selected Lorraine Finlay to be Human Rights Commissioner “without an open, merit-based selection process” according to the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC).
“The Morrison government has undermined the independence and effectiveness of the Commission, making Commissioner appointments without a public, merit-based selection process,” Human Rights Law Centre Executive Director Hugh de Kretser said.
“The Morrison government’s actions have jeopardised our national human rights watchdog at a critical time for human rights, both at home and globally.”
GANHRI is composed of 118 nation members – 86 of which have human rights organisations with an A accreditation, and 32 which are B accredited.
Those with “A status” have full participation rights at the UN Human Rights Council to attend and be heard at meetings.
If downgraded, Australia would only be able to participate as an observer alongside countries including Myanmar, Congo, Libya and Venezuela.
“Australia can and should lead the world on human rights. Instead of leading, the Morrison government is embarrassing us on the world stage,” Mr de Kretser said.
The Australian Government has been given roughly 15 months to address this matter before a final decision on the Commission’s status is made in October 2023.
Following the controversial appointment of Tim Wilson as Human Rights Commissioner in 2013 by the Abbott government, successive governments generally reverted to an open recruitment processes for commission appointments.
However, the HRLC said under Morrison the Government reverted to “hand-picking key roles”.
The AHRC said it would work with government and others to attempt to secure re-accreditation as an A-status NHRI in 2023.
“For 30 years the Australian Government has played a key role in promoting the establishment of national human rights institutions across the globe,” the AHRC said in a statement
The Commission’s President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, has expressed concerns to the government over the deferral’s potential risks to human rights in Australia and the country’s reputation internationally.