Appendix 2

Short guide to human rights

4.1        The following guide contains short descriptions of human rights regularly considered by the committee. State parties to the seven principal human rights treaties are under a binding obligation to respect, protect and promote each of these rights. For more detailed descriptions please refer to the committee's Guide to human rights.[1]

4.2        Some human rights obligations are absolute under international law, that is, a state cannot lawfully limit the enjoyment of an absolute right in any circumstances. The prohibition on slavery is an example. However, in relation to most human rights, a necessary and proportionate limitation on the enjoyment of a right may be justified under international law. For further information regarding when limitations on rights are permissible, please refer to the committee's Guidance Note 1 (see Appendix 4).[2]

Right to life

Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and article 1 of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR

4.3        The right to life has three core elements:

  • it prohibits the state from arbitrarily killing a person;
  • it imposes an obligation on the state to protect people from being killed by others or identified risks; and
  • it imposes on the state a duty to undertake an effective and proper investigation into all deaths where the state is involved (discussed below, [4.5]).

4.4        Australia is also prohibited from imposing the death penalty.

Duty to investigate

Articles 2 and 6 of the ICCPR

4.5        The right to life requires there to be an effective official investigation into deaths resulting from state use of force and where the state has failed to protect life. Such an investigation must:

  • be brought by the state in good faith and on its own initiative;
  • be carried out promptly;
  • be independent and impartial; and
  • involve the family of the deceased, and allow the family access to all information relevant to the investigation.

Prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

Article 7 of the ICCPR; and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)

4.6        The prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolute. This means that torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is not permissible under any circumstances.

4.7        The prohibition contains a number of elements:

  • it prohibits the state from subjecting a person to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading practices, particularly in places of detention;
  • it precludes the use of evidence obtained through torture;
  • it prevents the deportation or extradition of a person to a place where there is a substantial risk they will be tortured or treated inhumanely (see also non-refoulement obligations, [4.9] to [4.11]); and
  • it requires an effective investigation into any allegations of such treatment and steps to prevent such treatment occurring.

4.8        The aim of the prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is to protect the dignity of the person and relates not only to acts causing physical pain but also acts causing mental suffering. The prohibition is also an aspect of the right to humane treatment in detention (see below, [4.18]).

Non-refoulement obligations

Article 3 of the CAT; articles 2, 6(1) and 7 of the ICCPR; and Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR

4.9        Non-refoulement obligations are absolute and may not be subject to any limitations.

4.10        Australia has non-refoulement obligations under both the ICCPR and the CAT, as well as under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol (Refugee Convention). This means that Australia must not under any circumstances return a person (including a person who is not a refugee) to a country where there is a real risk that they would face persecution, torture or other serious forms of harm, such as the death penalty; arbitrary deprivation of life; or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

4.11        Effective and impartial review by a court or tribunal of decisions to deport or remove a person, including merits review in the Australian context, is integral to complying with non-refoulement obligations.

Prohibition against slavery and forced labour

Article 8 of the ICCPR

4.12        The prohibition against slavery, servitude and forced labour is a fundamental and absolute human right. This means that slavery and forced labour are not permissible under any circumstances.

4.13        The prohibition on slavery and servitude is a prohibition on 'owning' another person or exploiting or dominating another person and subjecting them to 'slavery‑like' conditions.

4.14        The right to be free from forced or compulsory labour prohibits requiring a person to undertake work that they have not voluntarily consented to, but which they do because of either physical or psychological threats. The prohibition does not include lawful work required of prisoners or those in the military; work required during an emergency; or work or service that is a part of normal civic obligations (for example, jury service).

4.15        The state must not subject anyone to slavery or forced labour, and ensure adequate laws and measures are in place to prevent individuals or companies from subjecting people to such treatment (for example, laws and measures to prevent trafficking).

Right to liberty and security of the person

Article 9 of the ICCPR

Right to liberty

4.16        The right to liberty of the person is a procedural guarantee not to be arbitrarily and unlawfully deprived of liberty. It applies to all forms of deprivation of liberty, including detention in criminal cases, immigration detention, forced detention in hospital, detention for military discipline and detention to control the spread of contagious diseases. Core elements of this right are:

  • the prohibition against arbitrary detention, which requires that detention must be lawful, reasonable, necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances, and be subject to regular review;
  • the right to reasons for arrest or other deprivation of liberty, and to be informed of criminal charge;
  • the rights of people detained on a criminal charge, including being promptly brought before a judicial officer to decide if they should continue to be detained, and being tried within a reasonable time or otherwise released (these rights are linked to criminal process rights, discussed below);
  • the right to challenge the lawfulness of any form of detention in a court that has the power to order the release of the person, including a right to have access to legal representation, and to be informed of that right in order to effectively challenge the detention; and
  • the right to compensation for unlawful arrest or detention.

Right to security of the person

4.17        The right to security of the person requires the state to take steps to protect people from others interfering with their personal integrity. This includes protecting people who may be subject to violence, death threats, assassination attempts, harassment and intimidation (for example, protecting people from domestic violence).

Right to humane treatment in detention

Article 10 of the ICCPR

4.18        The right to humane treatment in detention provides that all people deprived of their liberty, in any form of state detention, must be treated with humanity and dignity. The right complements the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (see above, [4.6] to [4.8]). The obligations on the state include:

  • a prohibition on subjecting a person in detention to inhumane treatment (for example, lengthy solitary confinement or unreasonable restrictions on contact with family and friends);
  • monitoring and supervision of places of detention to ensure detainees are treated appropriately;
  • instruction and training for officers with authority over people deprived of their liberty;
  • complaint and review mechanisms for people deprived of their liberty; and
  • adequate medical facilities and health care for people deprived of their liberty, particularly people with disability and pregnant women.

Freedom of movement

Article 12 of the ICCPR

4.19        The right to freedom of movement provides that:

  • people lawfully within any country have the right to move freely within that country;
  • people have the right to leave any country, including the right to obtain travel documents without unreasonable delay; and
  • no one can be arbitrarily denied the right to enter or remain in his or her own country.

Right to a fair trial and fair hearing

Articles 14(1) (fair trial and fair hearing), 14(2) (presumption of innocence) and 14(3)‑(7) (minimum guarantees) of the ICCPR

4.20        The right to a fair hearing is a fundamental part of the rule of law, procedural fairness and the proper administration of justice. The right provides that all persons are:

  • equal before courts and tribunals; and
  • entitled to a fair and public hearing before an independent and impartial court or tribunal established by law.

4.21        The right to a fair hearing applies in both criminal and civil proceedings, including whenever rights and obligations are to be determined.

Presumption of innocence

Article 14(2) of the ICCPR

4.22        This specific guarantee protects the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty of a criminal offence according to law. Generally, consistency with the presumption of innocence requires the prosecution to prove each element of a criminal offence beyond reasonable doubt (the committee's Guidance Note 2 provides further information on offence provisions (see Appendix 4)).

Minimum guarantees in criminal proceedings

Article 14(2)-(7) of the ICCPR

4.23        These specific guarantees apply when a person has been charged with a criminal offence or are otherwise subject to a penalty which may be considered criminal, and include:

  • the presumption of innocence (see above, [4.22]);
  • the right not to incriminate oneself (the ill-treatment of a person to obtain a confession may also breach the prohibition on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (see above, [4.6] to [4.8]);
  • the right not to be tried or punished twice (double jeopardy);
  • the right to appeal a conviction or sentence and the right to compensation for wrongful conviction; and
  • other specific guarantees, including the right to be promptly informed of any charge, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence, to be tried in person without undue delay, to examine witnesses, to choose and meet with a lawyer and to have access to effective legal aid.

Prohibition against retrospective criminal laws

Article 15 of the ICCPR

4.24        The prohibition against retrospective criminal laws provides that:

  • no-one can be found guilty of a crime that was not a crime under the law at the time the act was committed;
  • anyone found guilty of a criminal offence cannot be given a heavier penalty than one that applied at the time the offence was committed; and
  • if, after an offence is committed, a lighter penalty is introduced into the law, the lighter penalty should apply to the offender. This includes a right to benefit from the retrospective decriminalisation of an offence (if the person is yet to be penalised).

4.25        The prohibition against retrospective criminal laws does not apply to conduct which, at the time it was committed, was recognised under international law as being criminal even if it was not a crime under Australian law (for example, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity).

Right to privacy

Article 17 of the ICCPR

4.26        The right to privacy prohibits unlawful or arbitrary interference with a person's private, family, home life or correspondence. It requires the state:

  • not to arbitrarily or unlawfully invade a person's privacy; and
  • to adopt legislative and other measures to protect people from arbitrary interference with their privacy by others (including corporations).

4.27      The right to privacy contains the following elements:

  • respect for private life, including information privacy (for example, respect for private and confidential information and the right to control the storing, use and sharing of personal information);
  • the right to personal autonomy and physical and psychological integrity, including respect for reproductive autonomy and autonomy over one's own body (for example, in relation to medical testing);
  • the right to respect for individual sexuality (prohibiting regulation of private consensual adult sexual activity);
  • the prohibition on unlawful and arbitrary state surveillance;
  • respect for the home (prohibiting arbitrary interference with a person's home and workplace including by unlawful surveillance, unlawful entry or arbitrary evictions);
  • respect for family life (prohibiting interference with personal family relationships);
  • respect for correspondence (prohibiting arbitrary interception or censoring of a person's mail, email and web access), including respect for professional duties of confidentiality; and
  • the right to reputation.

Right to protection of the family

Articles 17 and 23 of the ICCPR; and article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

4.28      Under human rights law the family is recognised as the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is therefore entitled to protection. The right requires the state:

  • not to arbitrarily or unlawfully interfere in family life; and
  • to adopt measures to protect the family, including by funding or supporting bodies that protect the family.

4.29             The right also encompasses:

  • the right to marry (with full and free consent) and found a family;
  • the right to equality in marriage (for example, laws protecting spouses equally) and protection of any children on divorce;
  • protection for new mothers, including maternity leave; and
  • family unification.

Right to freedom of thought and religion

Article 18 of the ICCPR

4.30      The right to hold a religious or other belief or opinion is absolute and may not be subject to any limitations.

4.31      However, the right to exercise one's belief may be subject to limitations given its potential impact on others.

4.32      The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion includes:

  • the freedom to choose and change religion or belief;
  • the freedom to exercise religion or belief publicly or privately, alone or with others (including through wearing religious dress);
  • the freedom to exercise religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance; and
  • the right to have no religion and to have non-religious beliefs protected (for example, philosophical beliefs such as pacifism or veganism).

4.33      The right to freedom of thought and religion also includes the right of a person not to be coerced in any way that might impair their ability to have or adopt a religion or belief of their own choice. The right to freedom of religion prohibits the state from impairing, through legislative or other measures, a person's freedom of religion; and requires it to take steps to prevent others from coercing persons into following a particular religion or changing their religion.

Right to freedom of opinion and expression

Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR; and article 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

4.34      The right to freedom of opinion is the right to hold opinions without interference. This right is absolute and may not be subject to any limitations.

4.35      The right to freedom of expression relates to the communication of information or ideas through any medium, including written and oral communications, the media, public protest, broadcasting, artistic works and commercial advertising. It may be subject to permissible limitations.

Right to freedom of assembly

Article 21 of the ICCPR

4.36      The right to peaceful assembly is the right of people to gather as a group for a specific purpose. The right prevents the state from imposing unreasonable and disproportionate restrictions on assemblies, including:

  • unreasonable requirements for advance notification of a peaceful demonstration (although reasonable prior notification requirements are likely to be permissible);
  • preventing a peaceful demonstration from going ahead or preventing people from joining a peaceful demonstration;
  • stopping or disrupting a peaceful demonstration;
  • punishing people for their involvement in a peaceful demonstration or storing personal information on a person simply because of their involvement in a peaceful demonstration; and
  • failing to protect participants in a peaceful demonstration from disruption by others.

Right to freedom of association

Article 22 of the ICCPR; and article 8 of the ICESCR

4.37      The right to freedom of association with others is the right to join with others in a group to pursue common interests. This includes the right to join political parties, trade unions, professional and sporting clubs and non-governmental organisations.

4.38      The right prevents the state from imposing unreasonable and disproportionate restrictions on the right to form associations and trade unions, including:

  • preventing people from forming or joining an association;
  • imposing procedures for the formal recognition of associations that effectively prevent or discourage people from forming an association;
  • punishing people for their membership of a group; and
  • protecting the right to strike and collectively bargain.

4.39      Limitations on the right are not permissible if they are inconsistent with the guarantees of freedom of association and the right to organise as contained in the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (ILO Convention No. 87).

Right to take part in public affairs

Article 25 of the ICCPR

4.40      The right to take part in public affairs includes guarantees of the right of Australian citizens to stand for public office, to vote in elections and to have access to positions in public service. Given the importance of free speech and protest to the conduct of public affairs in a free and open democracy, the realisation of the right to take part in public affairs depends on the protection of other key rights, such as freedom of expression, association and assembly.

4.41      The right to take part in public affairs is an essential part of democratic government that is accountable to the people. It applies to all levels of government, including local government.

Right to equality and non-discrimination

Articles 2, 3 and 26 of the ICCPR; articles 2 and 3 of the ICESCR; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD); Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); CRPD; and article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

4.42      The right to equality and non-discrimination is a fundamental human right that is essential to the protection and respect of all human rights. The human rights treaties provide that everyone is entitled to enjoy their rights without discrimination of any kind, and that all people are equal before the law and entitled to the equal and non-discriminatory protection of the law.

4.43      'Discrimination' under the ICCPR encompasses both measures that have a discriminatory intent (direct discrimination) and measures which have a discriminatory effect on the enjoyment of rights (indirect discrimination).[3] The UN Human Rights Committee has explained indirect discrimination as 'a rule or measure that is neutral on its face or without intent to discriminate', which exclusively or disproportionately affects people with a particular personal attribute.[4]

4.44      The right to equality and non-discrimination requires that the state:

  • ensure all laws are non-discriminatory and are enforced in a non‑discriminatory way;
  • ensure all laws are applied in a non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary manner (equality before the law);
  • have laws and measures in place to ensure that people are not subjected to discrimination by others (for example, in areas such as employment, education and the provision of goods and services); and
  • take non-legal measures to tackle discrimination, including through education.

Rights of the child


4.45      Children have special rights under human rights law taking into account their particular vulnerabilities. Children's rights are protected under a number of treaties, particularly the CRC. All children under the age of 18 years are guaranteed these rights, which include:

  • the right to develop to the fullest;
  • the right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation;
  • family rights; and
  • the right to access health care, education and services that meet their needs.

Obligation to consider the best interests of the child

Articles 3 and 10 of the CRC

4.46      Under the CRC, states are required to ensure that, in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child are a primary consideration. This requires active measures to protect children's rights and promote their survival, growth and wellbeing, as well as measures to support and assist parents and others who have day-to-day responsibility for ensuring recognition of children's rights. It requires legislative, administrative and judicial bodies and institutions to systematically consider how children's rights and interests are or will be affected directly or indirectly by their decisions and actions.

4.47      Australia is required to treat applications by minors for family reunification in a positive, humane and expeditious manner. This obligation is consistent with articles 17 and 23 of the ICCPR, which prohibit interference with the family and require family unity to be protected by society and the state (see above, [4.29]).

Right of the child to be heard in judicial and administrative proceedings

Article 12 of the CRC

4.48      The right of the child to be heard in judicial and administrative proceedings provides that states assure to a child capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them. The views of the child must be given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.

4.49      In particular, this right requires that the child is provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting them, either directly or through a representative or an appropriate body.

Right to nationality

Articles 7 and 8 of the CRC; and article 24(3) of the ICCPR

4.50      The right to nationality provides that every child has the right to acquire a nationality. Accordingly, Australia is required to adopt measures, both internally and in cooperation with other countries, to ensure that every child has a nationality when born. The CRC also provides that children have the right to preserve their identity, including their nationality, without unlawful interference.

4.51      This is consistent with Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961, which requires Australia to grant its nationality to a person born in its territory who would otherwise be stateless, and not to deprive a person of their nationality if it would render the person stateless.

Right to self-determination

Article 1 of the ICESCR; and article 1 of the ICCPR

4.52      The right to self-determination includes the entitlement of peoples to have control over their destiny and to be treated respectfully. The right is generally understood as accruing to 'peoples', and includes peoples being free to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. There are two aspects of the meaning of self-determination under international law:

  • that the people of a country have the right not to be subjected to external domination and exploitation and have the right to determine their own political status (most commonly seen in relation to colonised states); and
  • that groups within a country, such as those with a common racial or cultural identity, particularly Indigenous people, have the right to a level of internal self-determination.

4.53        Accordingly, it is important that individuals and groups, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, should be consulted about decisions likely to affect them. This includes ensuring that they have the opportunity to participate in the making of such decisions through the processes of democratic government, and are able to exercise meaningful control over their affairs.

Rights to and at work

Articles 6(1), 7 and 8 of the ICESCR

Right to work

4.54      The right to work is the right of all people to have the opportunity to gain their living through decent work they freely choose, allowing them to live in dignity. It provides:

  • that everyone must be able to freely accept or choose their work, including that a person must not be forced in any way to engage in employment;
  • a right not to be unfairly deprived of work, including minimum due process rights if employment is to be terminated; and
  • that there is a system of protection guaranteeing access to employment.

Right to just and favourable conditions of work

4.55      The right to just and favourable conditions of work provides that all workers have the right to just and favourable conditions of work, particularly adequate and fair remuneration, safe working conditions, and the right to join trade unions.

Right to social security

Article 9 of the ICESCR

4.56      The right to social security recognises the importance of adequate social benefits in reducing the effects of poverty and plays an important role in realising many other economic, social and cultural rights, in particular the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to health.

4.57      Access to social security is required when a person lacks access to other income and is left with insufficient means to access health care and support themselves and their dependents. Enjoyment of the right requires that sustainable social support schemes are:

  • available to people in need;
  • adequate to support an adequate standard of living and health care;
  • accessible (providing universal coverage without discrimination; and qualifying and withdrawal conditions that are lawful, reasonable, proportionate and transparent); and
  • affordable (where contributions are required).

Right to an adequate standard of living

Article 11 of the ICESCR

4.58      The right to an adequate standard of living requires that the state take steps to ensure the availability, adequacy and accessibility of food, clothing, water and housing for all people in its jurisdiction.

Right to health

Article 12 of the ICESCR

4.59      The right to health is the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. It is a right to have access to adequate health care (including reproductive and sexual healthcare) as well as to live in conditions that promote a healthy life (such as access to safe drinking water, housing, food and a healthy environment).

Right to education

Articles 13 and 14 of the ICESCR; and article 28 of the CRC

4.60      This right recognises the right of everyone to education. It recognises that education must be directed to the full development of the human personality and sense of dignity, and to strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It requires that primary education shall be compulsorily and freely available to all; and the progressive introduction of free secondary and higher education.

Right to culture

Article 15 of the ICESCR; and article 27 of the ICCPR

4.61      The right to culture provides that all people have the right to benefit from and take part in cultural life. The right also includes the right of everyone to benefit from scientific progress; and protection of the moral and material interests of the authors of scientific, literary or artistic productions.

4.62      Individuals belonging to minority groups have additional protections to enjoy their own culture, religion and language. The right applies to people who belong to minority groups in a state sharing a common culture, religion and/or language.

Right to an effective remedy

Article 2 of the ICCPR

4.63      The right to an effective remedy requires states to ensure access to an effective remedy for violations of human rights. States are required to establish appropriate judicial and administrative mechanisms for addressing claims of human rights violations under domestic law. Where public officials have committed violations of rights, states may not relieve perpetrators from personal responsibility through amnesties or legal immunities and indemnities.

4.64      States are required to make reparation to individuals whose rights have been violated. Reparation can involve restitution, rehabilitation and measures of satisfaction—such as public apologies, public memorials, guarantees of non‑repetition and changes in relevant laws and practices—as well as bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations. Effective remedies should be appropriately adapted to take account of the special vulnerability of certain categories of persons including, and particularly, children.

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