Page last updated at 09:26 GMT, Thursday, 27 August 2009 10:26 UK

UN condemns Aboriginal treatment

Prof James Anaya - 27 July 2009
Prof James Anaya is a US professor of human rights law

A senior United Nations human rights official has criticised Australia's measures to fight child abuse and alcoholism in Aboriginal communities.

Prof James Anaya said the measures were discriminatory and stigmatised indigenous people.

He spoke after a tour of Aboriginal townships prompted by complaints that the government intervention was racist.

The restrictions include rules on how welfare payments can be spent and a ban on alcohol and hard core pornography.

The intervention was launched under the conservative government of former Prime Minister John Howard, but was kept largely in place by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after he took office in 2007.

Dozens of townships in Australia's Northern Territory were taken over by the federal authorities, and the government suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to allow the controversial policy to be implemented.

These measures overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples
Prof James Anaya

Medical staff and social workers were also deployed as part of the intervention, in an attempt to combat violence and the rampant abuse of children in some Aboriginal communities.

Treaties 'broken'

Professor Anaya, the United Nations Rapporteur on Indigenous People, said there was "entrenched racism" in Australia and the ongoing intervention in the Northern Territories continued such discrimination.

"These measures overtly discriminate against Aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatise already-stigmatised communities," Prof Anaya said in Australia's capital, Canberra.

Mr Anaya, an American professor of human rights law, visited Australia at the request of indigenous groups, church leaders and social justice organisations.

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

Some campaigners have argued that the measures violate human rights because they only target Aborigines.

After touring some of Australia's most disadvantaged communities, Prof Anaya agreed with those arguments.

"As currently configured and carried out, the emergency response is incompatible with Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - treaties to which Australia is a party - as well as incompatible with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," he said.

A recent study found that the gap between non-indigenous Australians and their Aboriginal counterparts was growing on issues such as child abuse and domestic violence.

Prime Minister Rudd said it was "a devastating report" on an unacceptable situation.

Shortly after taking office, Mr Rudd made a formal apology for the past wrongs caused by successive governments on the indigenous Aboriginal population.

But there is still resentment at Mr Rudd among Aboriginal Australians for not reversing the intervention, says the BBC's Sydney correspondent, Nick Bryant.

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