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Australia: People of African descent living under siege of racism, say UN experts

21 December 2022

CANBERRA/GENEVA (21 December 2022) – Africans and people of African descent are exposed to multi-faceted forms of racial discrimination, xenophobia and systemic racism in all spheres of predominantly ‘white’ Australia, says Catherine Namakula, Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

Ending a 10-day official visit to the country, the experts expressed serious concerns that, in a multicultural country that professes an inclusive national identity, “people of African descent face racial profiling, racial slurs, abuse of authority, over policing, under protection, targeting and violence”. The group heard concerns about racist hate speech and he use of negative racial stereotypes by some politicians and the media. Research documenting the experience of young people in schools shows that many African Australians are exposed to racist bullying with no redress, the experts said in a statement.

South Sudanese refugees reported high rates of incarceration, indefinite detention, mental health concerns, and suicide in Australia. In schools and in the community, reports of severe and pervasive racism have impacted their sense of belonging and their opportunities. “Disproportionate numbers of people of African descent have been categorised as unlawful non-citizens and banished indefinitely from Australia’s population to offshore and inland detention facilities,” the experts said.

The Working Group found that Australia’s use of indefinite detention under section 501 of the Migration Act presents grave human rights concerns, including with respect to due process, prior notice of collateral consequences, retroactive application and the racialised arbitrary and subjective nature of its use. The experts recommend that the Government immediately end the practice of indefinite detention under Section 501, which is incompatible with international human rights law.

The Working Group heard that racialised approaches of government and Australian society to COVID-19 restrictions clarified the long-lived reality of people of African descent as always under siege.

The experts said the experiences of people of African descent continue to be impacted by the country’s settler-colonial past, its White Australia immigration policy, which was dropped in 1973, and its legacy, still endured by the First Nations peoples, including Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islanders, and South Sea Islanders. “People of African descent experience a culture of denial of this racialised reality, and the legacies of this via pervasive ‘othering’ in public spaces and entrenched disadvantage.

“The mental health of children, men and women of African descent is an urgent concern requiring culturally appropriate and trauma-informed care, prevention and non-carceral approaches”, the experts said.

All children in ‘detention’ need to be decriminalised and returned to their families and communities with a view to shifting to a public health centred approach that addresses the underlying causes of juvenile offending.

The Working Group, which also included human rights experts Barbara Reynolds and Dominique Day, visited Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.

The experts welcome the expressed intent of the Government to address gaps and human rights concerns with a strengthened Anti-racism framework.

The Working Group will present a report with its findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2023.


The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts: Ms. Catherine Namakula (Uganda) current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms. Barbara Reynolds (Guyana) current Vice-Chair; Ms. Dominique Day (United States of America); Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko (Hungary) and Mr. Sushil Raj (India).

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Australia

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