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(New York) - The Australian government should carry out its commitments to protect and promote human rights at home and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Writing ahead of International Human Rights Day, on December 10, 2010, Human Rights Watch outlined specific recommendations for the Australian government in dealing with countries where Australia has strategic interests or influence - Burma, China, Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka - and on its refugee policy.

"Australia can and should be a regional leader in protecting human rights in the Asia-Pacific," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Prime Minister Gillard should reaffirm Australia's commitment to human rights with active and public diplomatic efforts."

In its letter, Human Rights Watch raised the lack of accountability for crimes committed by security forces, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, in many of the countries where Australia trains and assists security forces. Human Rights Watch urged the Australian government to systematically vet the human rights records of security force personnel and units being considered for training and to make this vetting procedure public. Training is only effective if accompanied by measures to hold human rights abusers accountable, Human Rights Watch said.

"Australia plays an important role in training security forces in the region, including providing human rights training," Pearson said. "But a transparent vetting procedure is needed to ensure that prestigious training programs aren't wasted on abusive units with no interest in respecting rights."

Human Rights Watch also urged the Australian government to amend its policies toward irregular migrants, which undermine their right to seek asylum in Australia. The government's proposal to send asylum seekers offshore to Timor-Leste for processing calls into question Australia's commitment to international human rights and refugee standards, and should be withdrawn, Human Rights Watch said.

"In its efforts to deter people-smuggling, the Australian government should not forget its responsibilities to refugees," Pearson said. "Policies such as mandatory detention and sending asylum seekers to other countries with no functioning asylum system risk Australia running afoul of international law."

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