Human Rights Law Centre is a nonprofit based in Australia that advocates for justice and equality to foster a more empathetic society. For the last 15 years, they’ve continued to champion human rights through their strategic legal action, policy solutions, and advocacy work. We sat down with the Human Rights Law Centre to talk about some of the programs they’ve been working hard on in the last year.
Q: What is the Human Rights Charter Campaign and what impact have you seen from this effort?
A: Human rights are rules that governments around the world have promised to comply with that seek to ensure that every one of us can live a decent, dignified life. No matter who we are or where we are, our lives are better when we all treat each other with fairness and respect, and when we can enjoy our rights and freedoms.
Australia is the only liberal democracy without a charter or bill of rights that protects our human rights. We’re working to change that with our campaign for an Australian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Support is growing and there’s a unique opportunity now to establish a national charter to better embed human rights in the DNA of our nation.
Having a charter will help ensure the actions of our governments are guided by values of freedom, equality, compassion, and dignity. It’ll foster respect for human rights and help everyone understand the rights and freedoms that we all share. It’ll also provide a powerful tool to challenge injustice, enabling people and communities to take action if their rights are violated.
Q: Human Rights Law Centre’s work also focuses on offshore immigration detention in Australia. Why is this a major concern for Australia and what is your organization doing to help?
A: Over the past eight years, we’ve witnessed a humanitarian crisis in the Australian government’s offshore detention centers. In 2013, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that no person seeking asylum by boat in Australia would be allowed to settle here. As a result, thousands of people have been robbed of years of their lives, and many have been forced to give up on resettlement and return to risks of persecution and death in their home countries.
We’ve led legal action and advocacy with partners to try and end these policies. We’ve helped open the door to resettlement in other countries, particularly the USA, where hundreds of people have been resettled. And in April this year, we launched Together in Safety—a major report that exposed the use of family separation as a tactic to deter refugees from seeking safety in Australia. The report was published at the launch of our Families Belong Together campaign, which aims to change laws and policies to reunite families. More than 20,000 people have signed the petition calling on the Australian government to end the separation of refugee families. And we’re working on launching legal action to change policies that are keeping families apart.
Q: You’re also working on a campaign called Raise the Age, which fights for equity for young people. Can you tell us more about that?
A: Every child should be free to go to school, have a safe home to live in, and be supported to learn from their mistakes. But right now across Australia, children as young as ten years old can be locked away in prison even though the minimum age for criminal responsibility recommended by the UN Child Rights Committee is 14. And most of these children are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children because of discriminatory laws and policies.
There is overwhelming medical, human rights, and criminological evidence that shows that not only is criminalizing young children the wrong approach, it also compounds existing inequality. That’s why we’re working together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organizations and legal, human rights, and medical experts on a campaign to raise the age of criminal responsibility across Australia from ten to at least 14.
Our goal is to convince the eight state and territory governments as well as the federal government to make the change. The Australian Capital Territory Government has been the first to make this commitment and we need to get other governments to follow. This change will mean that young children will have more opportunity to realize their potential, with their families and in their communities, instead of being put on a pathway to harm.
Q: How has the Dropbox Foundation partnership helped your organization?
A: The partnership with the Dropbox Foundation has provided critical funding support. Flexible funding has meant we can allocate resources to the greatest need. It has allowed us to respond to pressing human rights issues arising from the pandemic and enabled us to develop our communications and campaigning work in line with our strategic plan.
We’ve also worked with Dropbox employees during Hack Week to improve our digital marketing, our website, and the categorization of our legal documents.
Q: Tell us what’s giving you hope these days?
A: The last 18 months during this pandemic have been tough. To protect our right to life and health, severe restrictions have been imposed on other rights from education, to work, to seeing loved ones, and more. At times, governments have made mistakes—not doing enough to protect Aboriginal people, people in aged care facilities, and people in prisons and immigration detention centers. But communities have shown incredible resilience, creativity, and adaptability in response. And, in spite of the challenges, we’ve been able to achieve critical wins for human rights, including reforms to stop deaths in police and prison custody, addressing the impact of toxic mine waste from an abandoned mine on Bougainville, and securing safe and private access to reproductive healthcare. It’s the people and communities behind these wins that inspire us and give us hope.