Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 09:03 UK

UN investigates Australia rights

Aboriginal people gather in a street in Alice Springs (file image)
Alcohol and poverty have blighted many Aboriginal communities

A senior United Nations official is in Australia to investigate complaints by Aboriginal communities that the government is violating their rights.

The government suspended anti-discrimination laws two years ago to act against child abuse in remote Aboriginal communities.

Alcohol was banned and residents were forced to spend some of their welfare payments on food and children's needs.

A number of Aboriginal groups requested the visit from the UN's James Anaya.

"During my 12-day mission, I will investigate and report on the major challenges faced by indigenous peoples of the country in the enjoyment of their human rights," Mr Anaya said in a statement made last week.

He arrived in the capital, Canberra, on Sunday and is to visit a number of aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia.

Mr Anaya is a professor of human rights law from the United States. He is the UN's special rapporteur on indigenous human rights.

'Unacceptable situation'

A coalition of Aboriginal groups, church organisations and human rights activists say that the government intervention into Aboriginal communities, launched in 2007, is racially discriminatory.

James Anaya in Bogota, Colombia - 29 July 2009
James Anaya is an American professor of human rights law

The government suspended parts of its anti-discrimination laws in order for the so-called intervention to proceed.

Activists have said the government's move breached the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people.

"We believe that the strategies that work will be ones which respect indigenous people and engage in genuine and empowering partnerships with them," said Janet Hunt, the president of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation.

The Indigenous Affairs Ministry said on Monday that the government planned to reinstate the anti-discrimination laws in October.

A national report published in July on Aboriginal social and economic trends indicated that conditions had deteriorated.

In particular it showed that the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous citizens has grown wider in areas such as child abuse and domestic violence.

It revealed that Aboriginal children are six times as likely to be abused than non-indigenous children.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called it a devastating report on an unacceptable situation.

Soon after taking office in 2007, Mr Rudd apologised for past injustices and pledged that his government would aim to close the gap.

The intervention was launched under his predecessor, John Howard.

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