Australia breached international obligations on human and indigenous rights by imposing radical restrictions on Aborigines during a crackdown on child abuse in Outback communities, a United Nations expert said Thursday.
The U.N. special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya, said his 12-day fact-finding tour of Australia revealed that the Aboriginal minority still suffers from "entrenched racism."
Anaya's comments came as Australia launched its latest bid to address inequality, ill-health and poverty among the country's 500,000 indigenous people that have dogged the country since white settlers arrived more than 200 years ago.
The government said Thursday it would set up a new national representative body this year to advise it on policies relating to Aborigines.
Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the country's 22 million-strong population. In recent decades, billions of dollars have been thrown into community programs, housing and education. Yet Aborigines remain the poorest, unhealthiest and most disadvantaged minority, with an average life span 17 years shorter than other Australians.
Anaya, a University of Arizona human rights law professor, said he was particularly concerned by restrictions imposed on Aborigines in the Northern Territory in response to a 2006 government-commissioned report that found child sex abuse was rampant in remote indigenous communities.
The government suspended its own anti-discrimination law so it could ban alcohol and hard-core pornography in Aboriginal communities and restrict how Aborigines spend their welfare checks. The restrictions do not apply to Australians of other races.
"These measures overtly discriminate against aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatize already stigmatized communities," Anaya told reporters in the national capital of Canberra.
The measures were too broad and had been imposed for too long, despite a lack of evidence that the ban on alcohol had reduced alcohol abuse, he said.
Anaya described as "demeaning" the policy of forcing Aborigines to set aside a portion of their welfare checks for essentials such as food and rent. "They have to carry a card around that marks them as someone who can't manage their own funds," he said.
The restrictions were "incompatible" with Australia's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said.
Anaya _ who has made similar tours in Brazil, Nepal and Botswana before visiting Australia at the invitation of the government and indigenous groups _ welcomed the announcement of plans for an indigenous representative body.
The new body will be independent of the government and serve as a less powerful version of a national Aboriginal organization that between 1990 and 2005 administered billions of dollars in funds for indigenous programs and whose leaders were elected by Aboriginal constituents.
The previous conservative government abolished that organization _ the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission _ in 2005 amid corruption and mismanagement allegations, and folded its operations into other departments.
"Today is a day when, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we begin a new journey and express our determination to put our future in our hands," said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the government wants to establish the new body before the end of 2009.