SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia came under fresh criticism over its treatment of its indigenous population on Tuesday as a UN investigator examined the impact of a government takeover of remote communities and as Canberra pushes its bid to join the UN Human Rights Council.
Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders make up just three percent of Australia’s population of 23 million people but have disproportionately high rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and imprisonment, tracking near the bottom in almost every economic and social indicator.
U.N. special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz this week started a 15-day tour to review the impact of laws surrounding the government’s 2007 intervention, which was aimed at curbing alcohol abuse, domestic violence and improving health.
“The special rapporteur’s visit comes at a time we’re hearing harrowing allegations from young people brutalised by the youth justice systems,” Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Rights Manager of Amnesty International Australia, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Prime Minister (Malcolm) Turnbull must show federal leadership in setting a national plan to address it.”
Australia’s human rights record on indigenous issues has come under scrutiny with a royal commission in the Northern Territory and a parliamentary inquiry in Victoria hearing allegations of abuses against juvenile prison inmates.
Australia is seeking a seat on the 47-member UN Human Rights Council, potentially putting it at odds with the global body which has repeatedly criticized Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population.
Tauli-Corpuz will investigate issues surrounding indigenous detention conditions, land rights, violence against women and the rate of children removed from their homes, a U.N. statement said. Tauli-Corpuz will report her findings in September.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2016 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners accounted for over a quarter of the total prison population.
(This story has been corrected to say Australia seeking one seat, not two, on UN Human Rights Council in paragraph 7)
Editing by Byron Kaye and Nick Macfie