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UN-led Universal Periodic Review highly critical of Australia's record on human rights and health for Indigenous Australians
  1. Janani Muhunthan,
  2. Anne-Marie Eades,
  3. Stephen Jan
  1. The George Institute for Global Health, University of Sydney, Camperdown, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Janani Muhunthan; jmuhunthan{at}

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Key questions

What is already known about this topic?

  • Indigenous Australians disproportionately experience poor health, high rates of incarceration and deaths in custody.

What are the new findings?

  • The 2015 UN-led Universal Periodic Review (UPR) featured recurring criticisms by Australia's global peers regarding the incarceration of Indigenous Australians.

  • Australia's defiance presents challenges for promoting intergovernmental protection of human rights and health through the UPR process.

Recommendations for policy

  • Justice targets, investment into evidence generation for policy innovations as well as sustainable funding for Indigenous programs are needed to reduce Indigenous incarceration rates.

In November 2015, Australia completed its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a high level United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC)-led peer review conducted by UN Member States once every 4 years. The UPR is a bold innovation in international diplomacy as it is the only mechanism of its kind for scrutinising the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. It can be seen as an exemplar for motivating global collective action in areas such as the achievement of development goals, development assistance, climate change targets and health. The process involves the submission of a national report by the country in question on its human rights record, separate reports submitted by UN-affiliated human rights experts, national human rights institutions and non-government stakeholders, and recommendations by UN Member States. Australia's review comes at a crucial time. While defending its ‘long tradition of commitment to human rights’ against unprecedented international criticism for its treatment of asylum seekers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (hereafter referred to as Indigenous) Australians, Australia also announced its campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council from 2018.1

Australia generally ranks among the highest performing nations on most health and social indicators with the 10th highest per capita income in the world, a well-established universal health system and an average life expectancy of 80 and 84 years for males and …

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