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The BBC's Red Harrison in Sydney
"The mandatory sentencing laws are arousing protests across Australia"
 real 28k

Thursday, 17 February, 2000, 18:34 GMT
Australian laws 'violate children's rights'

James Wurramara James Wurramara: Jailed for stealing biscuits


Human rights groups in Australia want United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to intervene against laws requiring a mandatory jail sentence for minor offences in some parts of the country.

Mr Annan is due to visit Australia on Friday.

Australia's human rights commission said the laws in the Northern Territory and Western Australia breached UN convention because they allow children to be put in prison.

"The Human Rights Commission strongly urges the federal government to legislate so that these offensive laws are annulled," said commission president Alice Tay.

Last week, a 15-year-old aboriginal boy jailed for stealing pens and paint hanged himself in a detention centre near Darwin.

And on Wednesday, James Wurramara, a 21-year-old aborigine, was sent to prison for a year for stealing a box of biscuits.

'Strong views'

Mr Annan is scheduled to meet the Northern Territory's chief minister, Dennis Burke, on Friday, and Prime Minister John Howard next week.


The secretary-general won't shy away from giving his views
UN spokesman
A UN spokesman said the secretary-general was likely to raise the issue of mandatory sentencing while in Australia.

"The secretary-general is known as a very strong advocate for human rights and has spoken very forcefully against violations of human rights," he said.

"He won't shy away from giving his views."

Serial law-breaker

But Mr Burke - and the premier of Western Australia, Richard Court - warned Canberra to keep out of their affairs.

Mr Burke told the BBC that Wurramara had been breaking the law since 1995, and deserved the sentence he had received.

"Since 1997, when the mandatory sentencing laws were brought in, he's been to the court on three convictions of property offences, and if you're up for the third time you'll go to jail for 12 months."

The Law Council of Australia, the UN children's fund (Unicef) and Amnesty International have also argued against the legislation, saying it breaks a number of international human rights conventions.

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See also:
13 Mar 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia defends 'racist' land law
04 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
High level of trauma among Aborigines

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