Australia accused of going ‘soft’ on Myanmar at UN rights council

The Australian government has been accused of wanting to downgrade United Nations monitoring of human rights in Myanmar, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on March 20.

It said Australia was supporting a move at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to move Myanmar from an “item 4” state, regarded as having serious human rights issues, to an “item 10” state needing only technical assistance.

The assistance provided to “item 10” states includes help with drafting legislation, the newspaper said.

It quoted Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre, as saying Australia’s position “severely underplays the extent and seriousness of the ongoing human rights abuses” in Myanmar.

“It reduces pressure at a critical time of the democratic transition and diminishes the ability of the international community, including our allies, to push for much needed change,” Howie told the SMH.

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“If Australia wants to be seen as a world leader on human rights it must step up and advocate them at critical times such as these,” she said.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see Australia go soft on some of the most egregious abuses in our region.”

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs refused to comment directly about its stand in the UN council, telling the newspaper that “Australia’s view is that the best way to improve human rights practices in Myanmar is to engage constructively with its incoming government, rather than seeking to isolate it.”

The spokesperson said Myanmar had made progress on human rights but acknowledged that “serious human rights concerns remain”.

Australia’s position at the UN council was at odds with those of the United States, Britain and the European Union, the report said, adding that a vote on Myanmar was expected this week.

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