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Chilling effect on rights defenders: UN

AAP logoAAP 18/10/2016 Lisa Martin

Australia's human rights defenders operate in a climate of fear, censorship and retaliation, a United Nations representative says.

Special Rapporteur Michel Forst has wrapped up a fact-finding mission to Australia where he examined growing attacks on civil society.

He met with whistleblowers, asylum- seeker supporters and various community groups.

"General observation from extensive discussions with human rights defenders across the country point to a chilling effect," Mr Forst told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday as he released his final report.

They spoke of an atmosphere of fear, censorship and retaliation, he said, noting that several had preferred not to meet him because of concerns about repercussions for disclosing information.

Other areas of concern included:

* A lack of meaningful consultations on government decisions.

* Funding cuts and "gag clauses" in funding agreements.

* Secrecy laws including the Border Force Act which threatens detention centre staff, teachers and medical workers with two years jail for disclosing protected information.

* Vilification of human rights and environmental defenders.

Mr Forst's scathing report may have implications for Australia's bid to join the UN Human Rights Council.

He argued Australia's pronouncements on the global stage did not match up with its actions domestically.

Mr Forst singled out the federal government's vilification of Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs following her organisation's report into children in detention.

He also called on government officials and politicians to refrain from calling environmentalists "eco-criminals, traitors and green radicals".

On immigration, Mr Forst highlighted the federal government's treatment of Save the Children - a former welfare service provider on Nauru - which he said had been unfairly subjected to raids and false allegations of misconduct.

Groups that had been outspoken risked losing taxpayer fundings citing the example of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

Mr Forst will present his report to the Human Rights Council later this year.

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