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Top UN Indigenous rights body makes first flight to Australia for human rights probe

Giovanni Torre -

Human rights issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be put under the microscope when the United Nations' Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes its first visit to Australia.

First Nations leaders from around the world gathered in New York earlier this month for the 21st session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The forum called on governments, courts, and UN agencies to implement mechanisms to support and protect Indigenous peoples' lands and lives.

It also recommended that Indigenous peoples around the world be given more opportunities to participate in the UN's General Assembly process, a move which could elevate the forum to a level on-par with member states.

Indigenous human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade said the visit would highlight the human rights issues Aboriginal people were experiencing.

"I originally requested the visit on behalf of the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council five years ago... in the context of the high rate of child removals and the lack of self-determination in government responses," she said.

"Self-determination is recognised in legislation but not given meaningful effect in the actual systems and processes.

"We need this addressed now... these are fundamental human rights issues."

Dr McGlade said the Expert Mechanism's study would go beyond child removals and look at other human rights issues Indigenous people were facing.

The Australian Government was one of only four national governments to vote against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

After the election of the Rudd Government, Australia voted in favour of the declaration in 2009 but is yet to implement it.

In April this year, Greens Senator and Gunnai, Gunditjmara and DjabWurrung woman Lidia Thorpe introduced a bill to bring Australian law into line with the Declaration.

Dr McGlade said Australia has work to do to ensure UNDRIP is better reflected in the country's laws and policies.

"New Zealand... have had their visit recently by the Expert Mechanism and it assisted them in developing their human rights responses," she said.

"Canada has just legislated to implement the Declaration in British Columbia."

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