(Sydney) – Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, should adopt an ambitious human rights-centered foreign policy agenda and initiate urgent domestic rights reforms, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
“Prime Minister Albanese has the opportunity to reshape Australia’s regional reputation as a human rights leader,” said Sophie McNeill, Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We urge the Albanese government to act to hold countries violating human rights to account, while addressing longstanding domestic human rights issues at home.”
The Albanese government should immediately impose targeted sanctions against senior military officials in Myanmar responsible for human rights violations following the February 2021 coup, and against military-linked companies and other entities. Australia should urge Southeast Asian governments to develop a clear, time-bound approach to press Myanmar’s junta toward reform, including by increasing restrictions on its foreign currency revenues and weapons purchases.
The Australian government should also immediately impose targeted sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, as well as call on the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, to immediately release her long-delayed report on Xinjiang. The Albanese government should consider targeted sanctions on foreign companies, officials, and other entities known to be directly profiting from forced labor and other human rights abuses.
In the face of China’s growing influence, the Albanese government should seek to strengthen rule of law, transparency, and accountability in the Asia-Pacific, and reinvest in development aid that strengthens civil society, Human Rights Watch said. Governments from Vietnam to India are increasingly suppressing the work of human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers, and the Albanese government should strongly promote the rights to freedom of expression, media freedom, and freedom of association throughout the region.
Concrete actions are needed to address the specific abusive situations in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Israel, and Palestine. The Albanese government should demonstrate increased leadership at the UN Human Rights Council, especially on Lebanon and China.
Domestically, the Albanese government should prioritize reforms to address longstanding human rights issues, such as the treatment of asylum seekers, the overrepresentation of First Nations people within Australia’s criminal justice system, and the government’s continued support for new fossil fuel projects.
The Albanese government should take urgent steps to effectively regulate corporations’ greenhouse gas emissions, cease subsidizing fossil fuels, and end support for new oil, gas, and coal projects, Human Rights Watch said.
The Albanese government should end the indefinite and arbitrary immigration detention of refugees and asylum seekers, and cease a blanket “turn back the boats” policy, which is neither humane nor in conformity with international law. Australia should also end offshore processing and transfer all those remaining in Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia, or safe and appropriate third countries.
“During the campaign and in opposition, Albanese committed to ambitious human rights reforms that should now be swiftly carried out,” McNeill said. “The right mix of pressure and engagement from Australia on human rights issues could make a significant difference in promoting respect for human rights in the Asia-Pacific region. We look forward to working with the new government to see actions adopted as soon as possible.”