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Media release
Date: 9 December 2003
Contact: Patty Fawkner SGS, Director, on (02) 9356 3888

A Fair Go in an Age of Terror

Uniya's statement for Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December

On the occasion of Human Rights Day, Sr Patty Fawkner, the Director of Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre, issued the following statement:

Human Rights and Australia – historically there has been a good fit between the two. Our nation has been founded on values such as a fair go and concern for the underdog.

Internationally, Australia has given robust leadership in the area of human rights and was a vital player in the development of the United Nations human rights treaty system. In March 2000 Kofi Annan declared Australia a "model member" of the United Nations. Of this we are proud.

At home Australians enjoy rights, freedoms and benefits that are but the stuff of other nations' dreams. We savour our democracy, representative government, an independent judiciary, our freedom of expression, and access to health, education and clean water.

However in the recent past Australia's commitment to human rights has been compromised. This has coincided with heightened concern in regard to terrorism.

Each of the six United Nations committees which monitor compliance of nation states with UN human rights treaty obligations, has criticised Australia for its recent performance. Of particular concern is Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

Australia plays a dangerous and unnecessary game of "either-or". We have privileged national sovereignty over the rights of people to seek asylum from persecution. We have given priority to border protection at the expense of our responsibilities under the Refugee Convention. We have promoted ever-expanding powers for Australian intelligence agencies but have not pursued with the same vigour the human rights of individuals and groups. We have endorsed the primacy of domestic self-interest while undermining the status and legitimacy of the United Nations.

Such actions erode Australia's commitment to human rights, our international reputation, and our own traditional values. In an age of terror and uncertainty we are challenged to strike the right balance, to foster a "both-and", rather than an "either-or" world of human rights and national security.

John Paul II believes in such a balance. In this year's address to the Diplomatic Corps, he said that the protection of the freedom and rights of the human person took "precedence over every political project". This was not only a gospel imperative but was, said the Pope, the hallmark of good governance and "the best guarantee of peace within nations and peace between States".

Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre believes that there is a place for traditional Australian values such as a fair go in a post September 11 world. We do not have to ensure our security at the expense of human rights. Our 2004 national Lenten seminar series next March, “A Fair Go in an Age of Terror: Countering the Terrorist Threat to Human Rights and Australian Identity”, will explore this issue.

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