On 11 August 1998, CERD issued an early warning and urgent action in relation to an information request about the 1998 amendments to the NTA. On 5 June 1999, CERD wrote to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) requesting information for consideration at the CERD 55th session. Australian government representatives appeared before CERD in Geneva on 12 and 15 March 1999 in relation to the early warning and the request.
Before handing down its official decision on 18 March 1999 (as above), CERD commented that the amendments 'wind back the protections of Indigenous title offered [under previous Australian law... raising] concerns about the State party's compliance with articles 2 and 5 of the Convention'. Specifically, CERD questioned Australia's compliance with article 5(c) because of the lack of participation of Indigenous communities and lack of communication with these communities. The following is a summary of Article 2 and 5:
State parties condemn racial discrimination and take steps to pursue all appropriate means towards its elimination, this includes the implementation of policies to eliminate racial discrimination and promote understanding among all races. Additionally, states shall take measures to ensure the adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, for the purpose of guaranteeing full and equal enjoyment of human rights and freedoms.
State parties shall prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all forms, and guarantee all fundamental rights regardless of race, colour, national, or ethnic origin. Some relevant rights in Article 5 include:
- right to equality before the law;
- right to equal treatment before tribunals and all other organs administering justice; and
- political rights, including the right to take part in Government as well as in the conduct of public affairs and have equal access to public service.
(Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, HEROC. Report No. 1/2000)