- Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR ratified in 1980)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 (ICESCR ratified in 1972)
- Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (Migration Act 1958, M70 v. Immigration Minister 2011 concerning s 198A)
- Australia is a signatory to 7 international covenants/treaties
- Agreement between states and are used synonymously with ‘treaty’ or ‘convention’, usually mediated by an international organisation
- These covenants usually bind states to ratify them in their legislatures in international law, but are not really binding in each individual state until ratified.
- International protocols are definitely non-binding, and usually supplements or amends a covenant.
Australia’s engagement with international covenants
- Has always shown support for human rights frameworks
- Granted some UN bodies to hear complaints against Australia concerning rights abuses (Toonen v. Australia 1994)
- Agreed to be bound on the international stage, but slow to implement obligations into law
- Without ratification, human rights treaties cannot effectively protect individuals
- Australia still has not implemented many of the majority of international protections
- However, some have (e.g. Racial Discrimination Act 1975)
- Parliament relies on s 51 xxix to ratify the treaties (Koowarta v Bjelke Peterson 1982, Tas v. C’th 1983)
- Toonen v Australia 1994
- Example of how international agreements can provide a process by which individuals can have the rights upheld.
- Toonen complained to the UN Human Rights Committee that TAS criminal laws regarding sodomy were interfering with his rights
- Commission found in favour of Toonen pursuant to the ICCPR
- Federal gov’t passed an Act to override the TAS one using s 51 xxix
- Can result in domestic law being updated to conform with international treaties
- Failure to uphold international treaties raises public awareness
- Can provide a process by which individuals can raise concerns that their rights are not being protected
- There is no enforcement of treaties by Australia, and therefore no consequences if these treaties are not upheld.
- Australia is not obliged to ratify international covenants simply because of its existence.
- Governments may introduce legislation that is contrary to international treaties
- Existence of international law may undermine democratic principles