Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

1.1.9 International organisations, legal and environment


Australia continued its deep engagement in the United Nations (UN) and other multilateral organisations to address complex regional and global challenges.

The department made a strong contribution to the promotion of human rights by making interventions in the UN Human Rights Council and by participating actively in its Universal Periodic Review mechanism. The department expanded its advocacy of the Responsibility to Protect principle and the Protection of Civilians in peace operations.

The department took the lead in shaping policy for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that Australia will host in Perth in October 2011.

The department led Australia’s preparations for the Fourth Bali Process Ministerial Meeting on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime in March 2011, which resulted in agreement on a regional cooperation framework to disrupt people smugglers, manage irregular migration and reinvigorate cooperation to prevent trafficking in persons.

The department promoted Australia’s strong credentials for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2013–14 term and led whole-of-government efforts on the campaign.

The department contributed to the Government’s action in the International Court of Justice against Japanese whaling.

We supported the Foreign Minister’s participation on the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability.

The department supported passage of new laws enhancing Australia’s sanctions implementation and coordinated new UNSC and Australian autonomous sanctions regimes across government.

United Nations

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The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Rudd, and the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 19 September 2010.
Photo: Trevor Collens

Australia continued to take an active role in the UN. The department promoted our national interests in major international negotiations and debates.

Australia promoted the Protection-of-Civilians mandate for UN peacekeepers, including by co-hosting with Uruguay in New York in December 2010 a workshop on the protection of civilians.

The department strengthened its advocacy of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle which is aimed at preventing war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. As a member of the Friends of R2P, Australia has contributed $5.78 million for the term 2008–12 to support events and research by global institutions to advance R2P. The department worked closely with other countries to promote action by the UN Security Council against the Libyan regime, invoking the principle of R2P. These collective efforts led to UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 in February and March 2011 respectively.

At the high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS in June 2011, the department co-facilitated with Botswana a landmark consensus declaration containing targets to reduce HIV transmission and provide universal access to prevention and treatments by 2015.

The department led an active whole-of-government campaign to secure a non-permanent seat on the UNSC. This included support for Ministerial lobbying, the deployment of Special Envoys and increasing promotion of our strong credentials globally. Australia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York played a particularly active role. In 2013-14 the UNSC will deal with issues affecting Australia’s core national security interests, including Afghanistan and East Timor. A UNSC seat would allow Australia to make a difference more directly in its deliberations.

We lobbied for Australian candidacies for senior UN positions. Professor Ron McCallum AO was re-elected to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2011–14). Australia was re-elected to the International Civil Aviation Organization (2010–13), the International Labour Organization (2011–13) and as its chair for 2011–12, and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (2012–15). Australia was also elected to the UN Development Programme/UN Population Fund (2012) and the UN Economic and Social Council (2011–13).

The department led Australia’s engagement with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and supported the Australian National Commission for UNESCO.

Human rights

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The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Rudd (front, third from left), and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Chris Bowen (front, fifth from left) with other delegates at the Fourth Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime in Bali on 30 March 2011.
Photo: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images

Australia contributed to multilateral efforts to promote and protect human rights. The department led whole-of-government participation in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, presenting Australia’s national statement on human rights and contributing to negotiations on resolutions on Iran, Burma, the DPRK, the rights of the child, religious intolerance and trafficking in women and girls.

In its contribution to the 2010–11 Review of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the department promoted independence of the High Commissioner’s office and the Council’s special procedures mechanism. Australia was disappointed that the Review’s outcomes did not provide a greater role for NGOs and national human rights institutions in the Council’s work. The department led a landmark resolution which secured a regular focus by the HRC on the important work of national human rights institutions.

Australia co-sponsored a groundbreaking resolution in the HRC on sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a study on discriminatory laws and practices, and recommend ways in which international human rights law can be used to end violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Australia increased its interventions in the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process which assesses the human rights performance of each UN member state every four years. Australia participated in 40 out of 47 country reviews in 2010–11. The department supported the Attorney-General’s Department in preparations for Australia’s UPR in January 2011 and Senator Lundy’s participation as head of the Australian delegation.

We worked with other UN member states to suspend Libya from the HRC. Following pressure by Australia and other countries, Syria withdrew its candidacy for the HRC. Australia advocated the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. The Special Rapporteur was appointed in June 2011.

Australia supported the establishment of UN Women, which will coordinate efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment within the UN system. The department assisted Australia’s delegation to the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in February–March 2011.

Consistent with Australia’s standing invitation to UN human rights experts, the department worked with AusAID, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on the visit by the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights, Dr Cephas Lumina, in February 2011. We also facilitated the visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, in May 2011.

The department coordinated the Government’s appearance before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August 2010. Together with South Africa, Australia sponsored a resolution in the HRC in 2010 which mandated a high-level panel discussion on racism at the 18th session of the HRC in September 2011.

An Australian delegation attended the 10th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York in May 2011 and facilitated Government engagement with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). EMRIP provides advice on the rights of indigenous peoples as directed by the HRC.

The department led Australian delegations to the Australia–China Human Rights Dialogue in Beijing in December 2010 and the Australia–Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Canberra in February 2011. The dialogues facilitated frank exchanges on freedom of expression, association, religious practice, the administration of criminal justice and the death penalty.

We worked closely with AusAID on the Human Rights Grants Scheme to provide $3.3 million for grassroots initiatives across Asia, the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The department held consultations with Australian human rights NGOs in September 2010 and March 2011 on issues coming before the UN General Assembly and HRC. In June 2011, the department co-hosted the second Australian Government – NGO Human Rights Forum with the Attorney-General’s Department as part of the Government’s Human Rights Framework, announced in 2010.

People smuggling and trafficking

The department led Australia’s engagement in taking forward people smuggling initiatives. The Fourth Bali Process Ministerial Meeting on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime Ministerial Conference in March 2011 agreed to a regional cooperation framework to address irregular people movements. The High Commission in Port Moresby was active in advocating consideration by the Government of Papua New Guinea of Australia’s proposal to establish an asylum seeker assessment centre on Manus Island. Indonesia’s passing of anti-people smuggling legislation was also encouraging.

The department contributed to the Government’s Anti-People Trafficking interdepartmental committee (IDC) led by the Attorney-General’s Department. We provided information on activities to promote counter-trafficking efforts internationally. The department contributed to the 2009–10 annual report of the Anti-People Trafficking IDC, tabled in Parliament in November 2010 and participated, with ministers, other agencies and civil society, in the Third Annual National Roundtable on People Trafficking in November 2010.

The department continued to encourage countries to ratify the primary international legal frameworks in the fight against trafficking and smuggling, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplementary Protocols on Human Trafficking and People Smuggling.


The department established the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Policy Task Force to support Australia’s hosting of CHOGM in Perth in October 2011. Working with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Task Force is coordinating the whole-of-government development of Australia’s policy agenda. This focuses on: strengthening the Commonwealth institutionally; developing an economic and development agenda that supports global economic recovery and meets the needs of members; and promoting a constructive and influential Commonwealth voice on global issues.

The department supported the Hon. Michael Kirby in his role on the independent Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group. The group was mandated by Commonwealth Leaders in 2009 to report to CHOGM 2011 on options to sharpen the organisation’s impact and raise its profile.

We facilitated Mr Rudd’s participation in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which met in New York in September 2010 and London in April 2011. CMAG reaffirmed Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth. The group is considering options for reforming its role to become more active in preventive diplomacy and will present its findings to leaders at CHOGM in Perth.


Sustainable development

The department supported Mr Rudd’s participation on the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability. The Panel was tasked to formulate a new vision for sustainable growth and prosperity, and identify mechanisms for achieving it. With the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), the department commenced whole-of-government consultations to prepare for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janiero in June 2012. The conference will focus on the green economy in the context of poverty eradication and the sustainable development institutional framework.

Ocean and marine conservation initiatives

The department supported the Government’s efforts to promote whale conservation and end so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. These efforts led to increased international support for Australia’s International Whaling Commission (IWC) conservation initiatives, including the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. We contributed to the Government’s action in the International Court of Justice against Japanese whaling, including the preparation of Australia’s Memorial (written submission) filed with the Court in May 2011.

We worked with DSEWPaC to promote regional marine conservation initiatives. This included the Coral Triangle Initiative, a six-country Asia-Pacific conservation partnership for food security and economic development. The department initiated and co-facilitated a resolution in the UN General Assembly on the Protection of Coral Reefs for Sustainable Livelihoods and Development.

Climate change

We worked with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to support the Government’s efforts to address climate change internationally and domestically. We participated in negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, including the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún in December 2010. Australia was a key player in negotiating the Cancún Agreements, which secured mitigation pledges from all major economies, covering over 80 per cent of global emissions and 90 per cent of global GDP.

Convention on Biological Diversity

In October 2010, the department led negotiations on the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity which was adopted at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Protocol is an international regime to facilitate access to and share benefits of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

Sea law, environment law and Antarctic policy

We advocated Australia’s interests in the law of the sea and fisheries through multilateral and bilateral channels. This included contributing to the ongoing negotiation of an international rebuilding strategy for southern bluefin tuna stocks and working on an extension of the Multilateral Treaty on Fisheries between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States. With the Philippines, we co-chaired an ASEAN Regional Forum seminar on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which sought to broaden understanding and acceptance of UNCLOS as the foundation of a rules-based approach to oceans issues.

We provided legal advice to the department’s clients and other agencies on environmental law issues. We also provided advice on Australia’s rights and obligations under the legal framework established by the Timor Sea Treaty to promote the development of petroleum resources.

We provided legal and policy leadership on Australia’s substantial involvement in Antarctica. We led Australia’s delegation to the 34th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) held in Argentina in June 2011. Our Senior Legal Adviser chaired ATCM’s Legal and Institutional Working Group. In Argentina, Australia joined with other treaty parties in commemorating the Treaty’s 50th anniversary. Australia is one of 12 original signatories and hosted the inaugural meeting of Treaty parties in July 1961. We launched a joint initiative with France and Spain to strengthen support for the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Madrid Protocol). Preparations continued for Australia’s hosting of ATCM35 in Hobart in 2012.

Sanctions and transnational crime

The department coordinated whole-of-government implementation and enforcement in Australia of UNSC sanctions and Australian autonomous sanctions. The department’s regulatory and enforcement activity significantly increased in 2010–11, due to additional UNSC and Australian autonomous sanctions measures imposed on Iran in June and July 2010, and new UNSC and Australian autonomous sanctions imposed against Libya in February 2011 and against Syria in May 2011. The department undertook extensive outreach on requirements for sanctions compliance targeting the exporting, financial services and tertiary education sectors.

We assisted the Minister with the introduction and passage through Parliament of two important legislative reforms. The first was the introduction of amendments to terrorist asset freezing provisions in Part 4 of the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 to Parliament in September 2010 as part of the Attorney-General’s National Security Legislation Amendment Bill, and commencing on 25 November 2010. The amendments clarify the legal grounds for a person or entity to be made subject to the Act’s asset freezing obligations and require designations under the Act to be reviewed at least once every three years. The second was a Bill introduced in September 2010 to reform Australia’s practice in the implementation and enforcement of autonomous sanctions (an identical Autonomous Sanctions Bill introduced to Parliament in May 2010 lapsed when Parliament was prorogued prior to the August 2010 election). The Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 received Royal Assent in May 2011.

The department continued to promote anti-corruption measures both nationally and internationally. We partnered with major law and consultancy firms at a number of events in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to raise awareness within the business community of Australia’s laws criminalising the bribery of foreign public officials. Training on foreign bribery laws was provided to Austrade staff in Australia and we continued training departmental staff on their responsibility to report foreign bribery allegations against Australians. The department also attended the G20’s Anti-Corruption Working Group meetings in Indonesia in September 2010 and in France in February 2011.

The department led Australia’s contribution to the Financial Action Task Force on financial aspects of trafficking in persons and people smuggling as well as kidnapping and piracy for ransom.

International law

The department continued to work with the Department of Defence and other agencies to ensure the legal framework for the Australian Defence Force’s operations in Afghanistan, including our detainee management framework, accords with all applicable Australian domestic and international legal obligations.

Together with the Attorney-General’s Department, we continued support for the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) efforts to end the impunity of perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. This is reflected by Australia’s contribution as a member of the Bureau of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), which assists in managing and overseeing the Court. The department encouraged ratification of the ICC’s Statute by non-States Parties, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

We continued to support the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in their efforts to advance international criminal justice and enhance the rule of law.

The department led Australia’s contribution to an international regulatory framework for private security companies, including through supporting work on the International Code of Conduct for companies operating in complex security environments.

The department provided legal advice to Government agencies on negotiating international agreements and arrangements, including taxation, air services and social security, as well as the Protocol on Investment to the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement.

Personal Profile:

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Deborah Stokes

Deborah Stokes

As head of the International Organisations and Legal Division, Deborah Stokes advises the Government on Australia’s involvement in the United Nations, Commonwealth and other international organisations, with a focus on peacekeeping, human rights and international environment issues. A high priority is preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth in October 2011, as well as Australia’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2012-13. Another major dimension of the Division’s work is advising on international legal matters, including treaties and sanctions, as well as people smuggling issues.

Formerly, Deborah was head of the department’s South and West Asia and Middle East Division. She has served as Ambassador in Vienna and Deputy Head of Mission in Tokyo.

“It is an exciting time to be working on multilateral issues when the international agenda is fast-moving and Australia’s international engagement is at a high tempo. Cooperating with other countries to promote solutions to global issues is a particularly rewarding feature of our work.”


The department continued to support the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), including JSCOT’s review of 56 new treaties. We facilitated the signing of 11 treaties and some 200 memorandums of understanding. We supported consultation with the Australian states and territories on treaties under negotiation, consideration or review and government agencies were advised on treaty implementation and interpretation, including through an information seminar for government officials.


We will advance Australia’s interests across a broad multilateral agenda, including international security, human rights and global environmental issues.

We will remain deeply engaged with the UN. The department will intensify the campaign in support of Australia’s UNSC candidacy in the lead-up to the vote in October 2012. We will continue to support lobbying by Ministers and Special Envoys and to coordinate whole-of-government efforts in support of the bid.

We will use Australia’s hosting of CHOGM 2011 to engage its membership at the highest level, and working with them advance common interests in the Commonwealth and internationally. We will seek to have the Commonwealth focus on its strengths, including support for democracy, rule of law and human rights and to address the economic and development needs of its members, especially small states.

We will continue to give high priority to the promotion of human rights internationally by maintaining our active participation in UN forums on human rights, making bilateral representations on key issues of concern and working to strengthen human rights institutions in the Asia-Pacific region.

The department will intensify its preparations with the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janiero in June 2012.

We will foster regional engagement and participation in the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. We will also continue to pursue regional cooporation consistent with the framework agreed by the Bali Process, which promotes consistency of processing, durable solutions for refugees and effective return arrangements for those found not to be in need of protection.

The department will continue to support Australia’s International Court of Justice case on Japanese whaling.

We will consult industry on regulations to give effect to the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011, as part of ensuring effective implementation of Australia’s new autonomous sanctions measures.

The department will play a leading role in Australia’s hosting of the 2012 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Hobart.

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