Statement by H.E. the Hon Mitch Fifield, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
United Nations General Debate - Statement
30 September 2021
In a year of continued turbulence, the international community must redouble its commitment to the protection, promotion and respect of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Human rights remain central to international cooperation and decision making, not only in relation to COVID-19, but also on climate change, peace and security, and other global health issues.
Australia is particularly concerned by reversals of rights and fundamental freedoms during COVID, and the use of the pandemic as a pretext for restricting the essential characteristics of open and free societies. Politically targeted groups, such as human rights defenders, LGBTI people and indigenous peoples, have been the subject of reprisals and increased stigmatisation.
Vibrant civil society and effective national human rights institutions are essential for stable, secure and prosperous communities. We are concerned at the shrinking of civic space during the pandemic and the muting of civil society.
We urge Member States and the UN to facilitate civil society participation so the voices of all stakeholders can be heard, including by reducing barriers to indigenous peoples’ participation in the UN. Importantly, as the UN reopens, we must also reopen to civil society.
Australia is also greatly concerned that the right to freedom of expression - both online and offline - is increasingly under threat around the world. This includes escalating threats to the safety, work and credibility of journalists.
Australia remains deeply concerned about the use of arbitrary arrest, detention and sentencing to influence State-to-State relations. We are also concerned by the practice of States using COVID-19 as a pretext for restricting consular access to people in detention. We continue to support international efforts to deter these practices.
Furthermore, Australia continues to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances and for all people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, including for LGBTI people, indigenous peoples and people with disability, and has disproportionately affected women and girls.
Women are overrepresented in the sectors hardest hit by COVID disruptions, are doing more unpaid care work, and are at even greater risk of exploitation, violence and abuse. Gender-responsive recovery efforts are critical to regaining lost ground. We call on UN Member States to place all populations who may be vulnerable, including LGBTI people, indigenous people and people wth disability, at the centre of recovery efforts.
Recent global events have also highlighted the ongoing challenges that women and girls confront in conflict zones. Australia, through its Second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, is committed to promoting women’s meaningful participation in peace and security, reducing sexual and gender-based violence, and supporting human security, leadership and accountability, through engagement with civil society and multilateral forums.
Access to sexual and reproductive health and rights has been challenged globally as a result of COVID-19. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are key to enabling all people to make informed decisions regarding their own health and the direction of their lives.
As we seek to recover from COVID-19, we need a strong, multilateral human rights system to ensure accountability, transparency, and the continued protection, promotion and respect of human rights. The role of the United Nations in protecting human rights is more important than ever.
As an original signatory to and drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Australia continues to champion the principles of indivisibility, interdependence, universality and inalienability of human rights. Australia rejects attempts to reframe the consensus around international human rights law, which undermines the obligations on the state to protect, promote and respect the human rights of individuals.
We look forward to working with all UN Member States during UNGA76 to further the promotion and protection of human rights for everyone.