GENEVA Australia must tighten rules governing the behavior of its companies, especially mining firms, toward indigenous people at home and abroad, a United Nations human rights body said on Friday.
The 18-member committee of independent experts on racism also told Australia to do more to integrate recent immigrants from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other Muslim countries and tackle racism against indigenous people in Australia.
The U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) also voiced concern that the policy of processing refugees outside Australia meant that people seeking shelter in Australia were not being treated properly.
The committee's recommendations were issued in a report following a regular review of Australia's compliance with an international treaty of 1969 prohibiting racism.
"The Committee notes with concern the absence of a legal framework regulating the obligation of Australian corporations at home and overseas whose activities, notably in the extractive sector, when carried out on the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples, have had a negative impact on Indigenous peoples' rights to land, health, living environment and livelihoods," it said.
On processing refugees, the committee recommended that the government:
- review its mandatory detention regime for asylum seekers so that detention is a measure of last resort;
- end the suspension of processing visa applications from Afghanistan and standardize asylum processes regardless of the country of origin or form of entry;
- develop proper reception arrangements, especially for children, some of whom are kept in detention-like conditions away from their parents;
- ensure that asylum-seekers are not forced back to their countries of origin when they are being returned.
The treatment of refugees, especially boat people from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, was one of the most contentious issues in Australia's inconclusive election on August 21.
The committee said Australia needed to do more to integrate recent legal immigrants and tackle violence against Indian students -- which many police have argued is criminally rather than racially motivated.
It also called on the government to do more to help indigenous people such as the Aborigines, for instance by negotiating a treaty with them, giving them better access to legal aid and tackling laws in the Northern Territory that discriminate on the basis of race.
Australia's federal constitution lacks entrenched protection against racial discrimination, it said, recommending that the Racial Discrimination Act prevail over all other legislation that may be discriminatory.
"There is a certain structural aspect, a kind of structurally embedded discrimination which is difficult to uproot," Patrick Thornberry, a committee member from Britain, told a news briefing. "It does require a greater effort."
The committee bemoaned the fact that Australia had not complied with all its previous recommendations and asked the government to report back on what it was doing about the latest concerns and recommendations at the end of October, 2012.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tim Pearce)