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Civil society engagement and opportunities

Australia believes that freedom of expression is a fundamental part of a vibrant democracy and fostering an effective culture of accountability. Participation by civil society organisations (CSOs) in the UN and other multilateral processes adds value and ballast to international discussions, and assists CSOs to develop their capacity to engage on the international stage.

In the UN Human Rights Council, CSOs provide on-the-ground knowledge of challenging human rights situations around the world, offering important expertise and alternative perspectives on human rights policy and debate.

DFAT Human Rights NGO Forum 2020

The annual DFAT Human Rights NGO Forum provides an opportunity for NGOs and DFAT to come together and discuss international human rights priorities and concerns across the globe. In 2020, due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Forum was held virtually. Over 50 NGOs participated in interactive dialogues addressing:

  • Human Rights Council mechanics, the Universal Periodic Review and civil society engagement
  • Australia at the Human Rights Council: looking back, looking forward
  • The rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Gender equality –  impacts of COVID-19 in the Pacific
  • Gender equality – health and sexual and reproductive health
  • Gender equality – the rights of LGBTI persons

The keynote address for the Forum was delivered by First Assistant Secretary of DFAT's Multilateral Policy Division, Justin Lee.

Supporting civil society at the Human Rights Council

During our HRC term, Australia has continued to advocate for the participation of civil society in UN processes.

We have supported a diverse range of civil society representatives to participate at the HRC, including from all genders, gender identities and sexual orientations; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and people with disabilities.

Freedom of Expression and protection of human rights defenders

Australia is deeply concerned by the deterioration of the situation for Human Rights Defenders worldwide. They make a vital contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, democratic principles, peace and security, and sustainable development.

The HRC has previously emphasised the importance of creating and maintaining a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate, and Australia will continue to advocate in this regard inside the Council and across the UN system. We work robustly to prevent and address acts of intimidation, and reprisals, and speak up when incidents occur. We supported HRC resolutions on reprisals, and on 18 September 2019 during the 43rd HRC session, we delivered a national statement against such Reprisals.

Civil society consultations

DFAT is committed to seeking civil society views in advance of each HRC and UN General Assembly Third Committee session. These consultations help develop our thinking and engagement strategies in these forums. We are also interested to hear civil society views ahead of HRC Universal Periodic Reviews of individual countries, held three times a year.

CSOs are encouraged to provide specific recommendations regarding HRC and other UN resolutions, statements or the UPR by email to in advance of each session.

DFAT will continue to conduct annual DFAT-NGO Forums on Human Rights to bring civil society representatives together for frank, robust discussions. Information on the 2019 event can be found on the DFAT NGO Forum on Human Rights 2019 page. The next forum is scheduled for 3 June 2020.

In line with Australia’s Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty, DFAT has also established a death penalty consultative group, consisting of government officials and Australia-based CSOs with a strong track record on international advocacy against the death penalty. The group shares information and ensures coordinated advocacy to maximise the effectiveness of our collective efforts towards abolition of the death penalty.

The Australian Government will also continue to conduct consultations to inform Australia's treaty body reporting and appearances.

Join our mailing list

CSOs which wish to receive updates from DFAT about our human rights activities are encouraged to join our mailing list, by sending an email to

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