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From human rights to individual lives

In this video, Therese Sands describes ways of working with human rights frameworks when advocating for people with disabilities.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. Advocacy at global and local scales.
THERESE SANDS: I think the advantage of the international human rights framework and using human rights treaties that Australia has ratified, is that they just create more tools for your advocacy. So these treaties set out rights, human rights, of people, including people with disability. But they’re just treaties if they are just sitting there and they have been ratified. They actually have to be put into practise. And part of advocacy is to push governments to implement the rights contained in the various conventions. So it’s really important to engage at the global level, at the UN level, in terms of those mechanisms. You start with grassroots issues that affect people with disability.
You provide that or take that to the global level, hoping to get findings at an international level that impact on Australia and their actions, or policy, or legislation, to create local change. So you’re taking it up to the global and back to the local. So that is the value of it. It brings international attention on a country. So recently, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disability found that two people with disability in Australia, two deaf people, were discriminated against, that Australia had violated their rights in terms of being able to serve as jurors, and to undertake jury duty.
Now, that has significant implication for deaf people who have been in Australian courts, trying to get redress, or trying to be able to serve as every other citizen on a jury. So it’s about using the mechanisms that are provided. That’s just one example of individuals using the mechanisms. But in terms of the reviews of Australia under various treaties– being able to take a whole range of issues to those treaty bodies, talk to them, lobby them about the issues in Australia, ask them for particular and specific kinds of recommendations, then over time, you get a series of recommendations from different treaty bodies and different processes that eventually impact strongly on Australia.
So part of the reason why we had a Senate inquiry into forced sterilisation, was because there was years of going to, probably a decade’s worth of going, to the international level to raise issues of forced sterilisation in Australia– with the Committee on the Rights of the Child, with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, with the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disability, to the Committee Against Torture, and most recently, to the Human Rights Council, where they were undertaking their universal periodic review of Australia. And all of them have given the same recommendation back to Australia, that they must prohibit forced sterilisation.
So it’s a long-term approach, but it can have significant impact in Australia, in terms of the government trying to move, trying to progress issues, or look at issues that they might have been reluctant to if we were only advocating domestically.

In the above video, Therese Sands discusses the use of global human rights frameworks as a systemic advocacy tool to make local change, and gives some useful examples of this.

As a systemic advocate for People with Disability Australia (PWDA), Therese starts her advocacy with a local grassroots issue. She then engages at the global level, using UN treaties to support her complaints. The UN then feeds its recommendations back to the Australian government, which, over the long term, can create change in local policy and legislation.

Therese mentions two interesting Australian examples of this circle of systemic advocacy. Firstly, she refers to a case where two deaf people tried to access jury duty. In this case, they were able to use the UNCRPD to demonstrate that the Australian government was being discriminatory. Secondly, Therese describes Australia’s Senate Inquiry against Forced Sterilisation, which was the result of a series of recommendations from a range of UN treaty bodies.

Talking points

  • Using the internet or your own knowledge, consider how systemic advocacy happens in your local context. Is there a formal advocacy service or approach to advocacy, or do people rely on their own or their family’s advocacy skills?
  • Why is it important for systemic advocates to work at multiple levels — from the grassroots, to the international level, and back again?

Next, we step away from systemic advocacy and start to explore individual and self-advocacy in more detail.

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