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A human rights-based approach needed for Australia’s development aid programmes – UN expert

CANBERRA (11 February 2011) – UN Independent Expert Cephas Lumina urged Friday the Australian Government to go beyond its national interest, and adopt a consistent human rights approach for all its development aid policy and programmes, to ensure sustainable development and to guarantee that all recipient countries are able to fulfill their human rights obligations.

“A human rights-based approach would not only enhance the effectiveness of AusAID’s programmes, but would also contribute to achieving sustainable results,” said Mr. Lumina at the end of the first mission to the country by an Independent Expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the effects of foreign debt on the enjoyment of human rights.

The Independent Expert noted that AusAID’s primary objective is to assist developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development in line with Australia’s national interest. However, he stressed that “although some of its programme sectors directly or indirectly promote human rights, AusAID does not have a specific policy requiring all its programmes to be consistent with a human rights-based approach to development.”

“The current Review of Aid Effectiveness is an invaluable opportunity to ensure that human rights become an overarching objective of Australian international development work,” Mr. Lumina said. “Australian aid programmes should underpin people’s entitlement to basic standards of living, freedom from discrimination and participation, as well as transparency and accountability in public affairs.”

In his view, “besides supporting capacity building for government in recipient countries, it is important that Australian aid programmes dedicate more efforts to sustain the work of local civil society organizations that play a vital role in ensuring public participation and accountability”.

The Independent Expert commended the commitment made by the Government to increase development aid to 0.5 percent of Australian Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015, and urged them to adopt a clear road map for the achievement of the internationally agreed ODA target of 0.7 percent of GNI.

“Development assistance should not be used as a means of inducing Pacific Island countries to enter into free trade agreements,” Mr. Lumina said with regards to the free trade agreement negotiations currently underway in the region, such as PACER-Plus. “Australia’s aid programme should be guided by the needs of recipient communities, rather than focused on Australia's national interests.”

The independent human rights expert welcomed Australia’s policy decision to use, for the most part, grants, rather than loans as development assistance. However, he expressed concern that its development and trade programmes may be advocating public sector reforms (such as reducing public expenditure), privatisation and structural adjustment in the region.

Mr. Lumina warned that such policies may have adverse effects on the poorest members of the community in the Pacific region, and recommended human rights impact assessments for all development programmes and trade agreements to avoid hindering progress on health, education and other Millennium Development Goals.

The mission of the Independent Expert to Australia will be followed by a visit to the Solomon Islands, from 14 to 17 February 2011, where he will look at the impact of foreign debt on the realization of human rights, the right to development and the MDGs. He will also assess the role of development aid and trade negotiations in the achievement of these rights and benchmarks.

The Independent Expert will submit a preliminary report on the visit to Australia to the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and a full report in 2012.

Mr. Cephas Lumina is an Advocate of the High Court for Zambia and holds a PhD in international law/human rights from Griffith University. He was appointed ‘Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights’ by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. He is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. The mandate covers all countries.

(*) Check the Independent Expert’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10720&LangID=E

Learn more about the mandate of the Independent Expert, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/development/debt/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Australia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/AUIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Brenda Vukovic (Tel: + 41 797520484; e-mail: ieforeigndebt@ohchr.org), or Mariah Mercer, UN Information Centre Canberra (02) 6270 9209 or 0404 516 558