Freedom from torture

Torture is the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering (of a physical or mental nature) on a person. The prohibition on torture arises from the need to protect the inherent dignity of the human person, and protects both physical and mental integrity. International covenants such as Article 7 of the ICCPR recognise the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

Detention and the treatment of prisoners

The right to liberty is not absolute and persons found guilty of serious crimes can properly be deprived of their liberty. But this should only happen after a fair trial and subject to proper sentencing principles, involving an exercise of discretion to take account of all the circumstances of both the offence and the offender, including mitigating factors. Mandatory sentencing is contrary to these principles. All persons deprived of their liberty, even those guilty of the most serious offences, are entitled to humane treatment and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Freedom of association

Freedom of association is fundamental to a free and democratic society. For a functioning democracy people must be free to form and join political parties. The right extends beyond the political sphere to all forms of association: social, religious, cultural, sporting etc. A liberal, democratic society like Australia would be unimaginable without this right. A person with particular religious or social views is likely to wish to associate with others who hold similar views.

Right to privacy and freedom from surveillance

The right to privacy is the right to be free from undue surveillance by Government or anyone else. Surveillance by the State should only occur if absolutely necessary and where authorised by an independent judicial officer. Personal information should only be collected and kept by the State and anyone else for a legitimate purpose authorised by law. Once collected, personal information should be destroyed as soon as it is no longer required. Not only would this protect privacy, it would also improve security.

Freedom of thought and belief

The human right of freedom of thought and belief is fundamental and unqualified. It includes freedom of conscience, religion and belief and the free exercise of religion or belief. Though we take these freedoms for granted in Australia today they were only won over centuries of struggle and are still not enjoyed in many parts of the world. Even in Australia vestiges of the struggle to secure this freedom can be seen in the continuing prohibition on Catholics from being our head of state.

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression includes not only freedom of speech but freedom of artistic expression and freedom to communicate generally. The right to engage in communication on political matters is one of the few constitutionally protected rights we enjoy in Australia. This is because the system of democratic government created by our constitution depends on the free exchange of political communications. Like most freedoms, freedom of expression is not absolute and must be qualified by restrictions necessary for the protection of public order.

Protection of families and reproductive rights

The protection of families is recognised in article 23 of the ICCPR and section 17 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Since families are the fundamental unit of society, the well-being of society depends on them. This means, for example, that the maintenance of a family unit is a powerful mitigating factor in sentencing. It also means that deportation of non-citizens should be avoided where to do so would break up a family. The right to a family life also has consequences for reproductive rights, including abortion.

Freedom to take part in public life

Freedom to take part in public life extends to the right to vote, the right to engage in political activity, the right to contest public office and the right to public employment. Like freedom of expression, the right of all to take part in public life is a necessary precondition to our democratic system of government. The freedom to take part in public life, including the right to vote is recognised in Article 25 of the ICCPR. The right to vote is recognised in the Australian Constitution: sections 7, 24 and 41.

Freedom from discrimination and cultural rights

The right to equality is fundamental. As a free-standing right it is declared in article 26 of the ICCPR, and as a condition of the enjoyment of all other rights it is enshrined in article 2 of the ICCPR and ICESCR. Equality is both procedural—equality before the law—and substantive—equality under the law. Liberty Victoria supports the right to equality and freedom from discrimination, without the limitation in the Charter to only those attributes mentioned on the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (EOA).

Police and policing

Police powers should be exercised in aid of the rule of law. Persons granted power sometimes abuse it and police are no exception. Since the police exercise significant powers, it is essential for the protection of human rights in Victoria that proper oversight of the police – both through the courts and through mechanisms to investigate police conduct – is maintained. Violence by police against members of the public has the potential to unravel the fabric of the community. Sometimes such violence is unavoidable or justifiable.