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Australia: UN experts urge support for Indigenous ‘Voice’ vote

05 October 2023

GENEVA (5 October 2023) – UN human rights experts* today urged all Australians to unite in support of the creation of a permanent constitutional body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to advise the Government on all matters that relate to them as the First Peoples of Australia.

Australians will vote in a referendum on 14 October 2023 on a proposal to enshrine into the Constitution an Indigenous Voice to parliament.

“The Voice initiative will pave the way to overcome the colonial legacy of systemic discrimination and inequalities that have undermined the ability of Indigenous Peoples to realise their rights to development and self-determination,” the experts said. “It will strengthen the participation of Australia’s First Peoples in decision-making related to their political, economic, social and cultural development.”

“First Peoples experience higher rates of disease and lower life expectancy than non-indigenous peoples due to lack of access to health services, adequate housing and nutritious food,” the experts said. They noted that poor education and employment opportunities lead to poverty and social problems. It is reported that Indigenous children are 26 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous children, and that Indigenous women face higher rates of homelessness and gender-based violence.

“The First Peoples of Australia have a right under international human rights law to participate in decision-making that affects them,” the experts said. “By voting ‘yes’ on 14 October 2023, Australians will help the Government fulfil its human rights obligations,” they said.

The UN experts urged Australian authorities to treat the Voice Referendum only as a first step towards the full implementation of the Uluru Statement and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in a letter dated 3 October 2023. It will be made public on 2 December 2023.

“The fulfilment of Indigenous Peoples' right to Indigenous-led institutions should not be presented as a cost or an unjustified privilege, but rather as a matter of fundamental human rights and justice for historical wrongs,” the experts said.

They said the Voice will support the First Peoples’ quest for justice by amending punitive laws in areas such as child protection, law enforcement and corrections, native title and cultural heritage that continue to discriminate against them.

They stressed that it will be critical for the Australian Government to engage in transparent and meaningful consultation with the First Peoples before enacting legislation to establish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

“First Peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development through their own institutions,” the experts said.

*The experts: Surya Deva, Special Rapporteur on the right to development and José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests please contact:

Antoanela Pavlova ([email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts

Follow news related to the Special Rapporteur on the right to development: @UNSRdevelopment

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