Further human rights protection

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)Â 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 AHRC Act 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.

International human rights instruments include:

United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966);

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989);

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).

If it considers it appropriate, 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 may table 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 AHRC Act; Australian Human Rights Commission Regulations 1989).

The process for dealing with human rights and workplace complaints (human rights complaints) is different to the process for complaints of unlawful discrimination under the racial, sex, disability and age discrimination Acts mentioned above. The AHRC is limited to attempting to conciliate human rights complaints and reporting its findings to the parties and the federal Attorney-General, who may table 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 on the AHRC website (www.humanrights.gov.au).

Complaints to United Nations committees

Individuals who have exhausted all domestic remedies 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:

United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966);

United Nations Covenant against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984);

United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1966);

United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979);

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).

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.