UN wants Australia to stop forced sterilization of disabled, improve treatment of asylum seekers

© Neil Hall
Australia's forced sterilization program of disabled persons is being examined by the UN, along with its behavior towards asylum seekers. It comes after member states harshly criticized the country's treatment of refugees at offshore detention centers.

The review is taking place ahead of the United Nation's Universal Periodic Review (IPR) of Australia, which the organization says is a “cooperative process” that “reminds states of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This is the second time Australia has faced a period review by the organization, which looks at every country's record once every four years.

The UN is due to hand down its report into the human rights review on Thursday, according to the Guardian.

Forced sterilization

Australia's practice of allowing the forced sterilization of disabled persons was addressed at the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) forum in Geneva on Monday, with the United Kingdom calling for legislation to prohibit sterilization without consent from the individual.

The country currently allows the parents of a disabled person to make the decision regarding sterilization, and also accepts court-issued sterilization orders – a policy that has attracted the ire of international human rights groups for years.

In its 2014 annual report, Human Rights Watch called the policy “alarming,” noting that the UN had urged the government to “take immediate steps to prohibit involuntary sterilization and provide assistance enabling people with disabilities to make decisions about their own lives" just one year prior.

Carolyn Frohmader, CEO of Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), told the Guardian that Australia does not have any laws in place to prohibit the forced sterilization of women with disabilities, or children, adding that it falls under the UN definition of torture.

The group is campaigning for the sterilization of women with disabilities to occur only when there is informed consent, and maintains that no child should ever be sterilized.

Treatment of asylum seekers

A total of 110 nations put forward recommendations for Australia to improve its human rights record at the Monday meeting, with its treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people drawing particular criticism from member states.

Among the countries offering recommendations was the United States, which called on Australia to “closely monitor” the offshore processing of refugees and asylum seekers.

"We encourage Australia to enter humane treatment and respect for the human rights of asylum seekers, including those processed offshore in Papua New Guinea and Nauru," the US delegate said.

However, the Australian delegation maintained that its border control policies have saved countless lives at sea, with MP Philip Ruddock saying that keeping the refugees in detention centers and turning the boats back were necessary to save lives. His comments come less than one month after Amnesty International alleged that the Australian government had paid people smugglers to turn back refugee boats headed for New Zealand.

Disturbances at the notorious detention centers of Christmas Island, Nauru, and Manus Island were the main points of discussion at the meeting, and many countries urged for alternatives to the facilities.

The controversial detention centers were brought into the spotlight most recently on Monday, after a riot was started at Christmas Island following the suspicious death of an escaped detainee.

Australia began turning around refugee boats after the election of the current Liberal-National coalition government in 2013. Passengers are sent to one of the three detention centers once they are intercepted by border control authorities.

The government has repeatedly maintained that the journey asylum seekers make is dangerous and controlled by criminal people smugglers, and that Australian authorities have a duty to stop it.

Concerns about discrimination against indigenous people were also raised at the meeting, with Denmark noting the “high percentage of Aboriginal children between the ages of 10 to 12 years held in detention centers.”