No Peace Without Justice: Australia's Fundamental Contribution to Human Rights

75 years ago, respect and fulfilment of human rights was adopted as a core foundation of the United Nations and Australia played a key role in making this happen

By United Nations Association of Australia

Human Rights

Drafting Committee on International Bill of Rights (1947-06-09) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

A Commission on Human Rights

The UN Commission on Human Rights was established in 1946 as the principal policy-making body for human rights within the United Nations. Australia was one of nine countries involved in drafting a new ‘International Bill of Rights’ to set the standard on human rights.

Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (1947-01-27) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

Drafting a Universal Declaration

As a member of the drafting sub-committee for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Australian Colonel William Roy Hodgson (L) argued strongly for enforcing human rights by making the declaration legally binding or via an international tribunal for filing complaints.

Third Regular Session of United Nations General Assembly (1948-09-25) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

Adoption of the Universal Declaration, 1948

In 1948, Dr. Herbert Evatt of Australia was elected President of the UN General Assembly—the only Australian to hold the role. A strong champion for civil liberties and equal rights, he presided over the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration.     

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1949-11-01) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

Towards a common understanding

The 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establish a set of shared fundamental rights to be universally protected.

Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on 10th December 1948 - now International Human Rights Day - the Declaration still sets the standard today.

Palestine Refugees (1949-01-01) by UN PhotoUnited Nations Association of Australia

All human beings born free and equal in dignity and rights

The UDHR shaped the development of all subsequent human rights conventions, from women’s rights and the rights of children, to the right to protection from racial discrimination and the rights of persons with disabilities.

Genocide Convention Approved by General Assembly of United Nations (1948-12-11) by UN Photo/MBUnited Nations Association of Australia

Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948

The day after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, 'Doc' Evatt (L) signs the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on behalf of the Australian Government, overseen by Jehan de Noue, Chief of Protocol (R).

Australia Deposits Accession to Convention on Status of Refugees (1954-01-22) by UN Photo/MBUnited Nations Association of Australia

Convention on Status of Refugees, 1954

Permanent Representative to the UN William D. Forsyth (R) deposits Australia's instrument of accession to the Convention with UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld (L). It establishes the right to asylum, work, education, documentation, public relief and freedom of religion.

General Assembly Elects Fifteen Members of Human Rights Council (2017-10-16) by UN Photo/Kim HaughtonUnited Nations Association of Australia

A member of the Human Rights Council, 2018-2020

Australia remains committed to a strong multilateral human rights system. Key focus areas include good governance, freedom of expression, advancing the rights of women and girls, indigenous peoples, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, and abolition of the death penalty.

Representative of Australia Addresses Disabled Persons Observance Day (2008-10-03) by UN Photo/Paulo FilgueirasUnited Nations Association of Australia

Protecting the rights of persons with disability, 2008

The Australian Government was among the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Its purpose is to promote, protect and ensure full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all people with disability.

Voter Registration for Southern Sudan Referendum (2010-11-22) by UN Photo/Tim McKulkaUnited Nations Association of Australia

Political freedom and democracy

Australia is a strong supporter of freedom of expression and self-determination. In the lead up to the Southern Sudan Referendum in 2010, voters were registered in eight foreign countries including Australia, which has a large Southern Sudanese Diaspora presence.

Youth Representative Addresses General Assembly Meeting on Children (2007-12-12) by UN Photo/Eric KanalsteinUnited Nations Association of Australia

Giving a voice to youth

Youth Representatives of Australia Catherine Maher (R) and Mikael Dunlop (C) had the opportunity to address a High-Level meeting of the General Assembly at a Special Session on Children "A World Fit for Children +5." Involving Australian youth in shaping the future is vital.

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Briefs the Press on Upcoming World Conference (2014-05-19) by UN Photo/Devra BerkowitzUnited Nations Association of Australia

Upholding indigenous rights

Les Malezer (C), Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, speaks at a press conference on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Perspectives and best practices were shared at this high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly in September 2014. 

Press Conference by Head of DPRK Commission of Inquiry (2014-03-17) by UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréUnited Nations Association of Australia

Holding nations to account for crimes against humanity

Australian the Hon Michael Kirkby chaired the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Tasked to investigate systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights,  it identified "a disturbing array of crimes against humanity."

Foreign Minister of Australia Addresses Meeting on 25th Anniversary of Fourth World Conference on Women (2020-10-01) by UN Photo/Loey FelipeUnited Nations Association of Australia

Gender equality front and centre in 2020

Marise Payne (on screen), Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women of Australia, addresses the General Assembly high-level meeting on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

International Court of Justice (1984-01-01) by UN Photo/Pernaca SudhakaranUnited Nations Association of Australia

A culture of human rights

The opening sentence of the UDHR recognises that "the inherent dignity of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." Through the everyday practice of respect for human rights, diversity and inclusion we strengthen and uphold fundamental freedoms in the Australian community.

Credits: Story

Created by the United Nations Association of Australia (NSW) to celebrate 75 years of the United Nations and the untold stories of Australia's involvement, in collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and New South Wales Government agency Multicultural NSW, using photographs supplied by project partners and sourced from UN Photo.

With special thanks to the UNAA UN75 curation team:
Tahnia Alludin
Maddie Gilholme
Luke Raisin
Sahera Sumar
Andrea Spencer-Cooke

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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