Further human rights protection

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) investigates acts by the Commonwealth that breach international human rights instruments. It attempts to conciliate human rights complaints and can also investigate and conciliate complaints of discrimination in employment. Findings are reported to the Attorney-General. Individuals can also make complaints to the United Nations about breaches of their human rights under international instruments.

Human rights inquiries

The AHRCA gives the AHRC the power to investigate acts and practices done “by or on behalf of the Commonwealth” that may be inconsistent with human rights recognised in certain international instruments.

The international human rights instruments include the United Nations’:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966;

Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989; and

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006.

The AHRC attempts to conciliate human rights complaints. If a matter does not settle and the AHRC finds a breach of human rights, it reports its findings to the parties and the federal Attorney-General, who tables the reports in parliament. The AHRC’s recommendations can include compensation, but are not enforceable.

Workplace discrimination inquiries

The AHRC can also inquire into complaints of discrimination in employment on a broad range of grounds, including social origin, nationality, religion, political opinion, trade union activity, criminal record and sexual orientation (pt II div 4 AHRCA; Australian Human Rights Commission Regulations 1989).

This process is different to the process for complaints under the racial, sex, disability and age discrimination Acts mentioned in “Commonwealth discrimination Acts”. The AHRC is limited to attempting to conciliate these types of complaints and reporting its findings to the parties and the federal Attorney-General, who tables the reports in parliament. The AHRC’s recommendations can include compensation but are not enforceable.

Examples of reports to the Attorney-General following complaints of breaches of human rights or workplace discrimination can be found under “Publications” on the ARHC website.

Complaints to United Nations committees

Individuals can complain to the United Nations about alleged breaches of their rights under particular international instruments. Australia has agreed that individuals can complain to a United Nations committee about breaches of the following international instruments:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966;

Covenant against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 1984;

International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination 1966;

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1979; and

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006.

Individuals who have exhausted all domestic remedies, and who believe that a right protected by an international instrument listed above has been violated, can complain to the relevant UN committee.

Further information on how to make a complaint to the United Nations can be found on the website of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at www.ohchr.org.