Communication for Sustainable Development

Independent UN expert urges Australia to adopt human rights approach to foreign aid

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An independent United Nations expert has urged the Australian Government to adopt a consistent human rights approach in its development aid policy and programmes to facilitate sustainable development and ensure that recipient countries fulfil their human rights obligations. “A human rights-based approach would not only enhance the effectiveness of AusAID’s [Australian Agency for International Development] programmes, but would also contribute to achieving sustainable results,” said Cephas Lumina, the 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.

In a statement released at the weekend at the conclusion of his first mission to Australia, Mr. Lumina 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,” said Mr. Lumina.
Besides supporting capacity building for governments in recipient countries, Mr. Lumina said, 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.
He commended the Australian Government’s commitment to increasing development aid to 0.5 per cent of the country’s Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015, and urged Canberra to adopt a clear “road map” for the achievement of the internationally agreed official development assistance (ODA) target of 0.7 per cent 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 referring to the free trade agreement negotiations currently underway in the region. “Australia’s aid programme should be guided by the needs of recipient communities, rather than focused on Australia’s national interests,” he added.
He welcomed Australia’s policy decision to use, for the most part, grants, rather than loans as development assistance, but expressed concern that its development and trade programmes may be advocating public sector reforms, 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 (MDGs) – the targets that seek eliminate extreme poverty and hunger, maternal and infant mortality and lack of access to medical care and education, all by 2015.
Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.
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