PR AGENCY BECOMES first Australian company TO BE found to be in breach of refugee human rights

Today the OECD made a finding that Australian companies operating overseas should comply with the OECD’s Human Rights Principles. This is the first case of the Australian OECD contact point making a finding against an Australian company for a breach of the human rights of people seeking asylum.

For the past two years, the National Justice Project (NJP) and Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru (AWSWN) have been fighting for justice for a woman known as “Najma” who was raped on Nauru. Following her rape, her sensitive personal details were released to the media by Mercer PR, an Australian communications agency acting for the Nauruan Government.

AWSWN and NJP made a complaint to the Australian OECD contact point on Najma’s behalf to demand justice for the breach of her rights and to protect other women on Nauru from similar breaches.

The right to privacy is set out in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as follows: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Adjunct Professor George Newhouse of NJP said “it is my view that by releasing these intimate details, it is likely that Mercer PR and the Nauru government have made women on Nauru unsafe by deterring them from making complaints about rape and gender-based violence to the police. Their actions have also retraumatised Najma.”

Julie Macken of AWSWN said "in my opinion, the Nauruan government put the sensitive details of a woman's assault into a media release to send a clear and brutal message to any other woman wanting to speak about their sexual assault.”

Najma’s sexual assault on Nauru is the tip of the iceberg. It exposes the violence that vulnerable women experience on Nauru and the attitude that the Nauru government has towards them. The statistics on sexual violence in Nauru are horrific with nearly half of all women (47%) experiencing sexual violence perpetrated by someone other than an intimate partner since age 15.

This case shows that Australian companies working for foreign governments need to maintain international human rights notwithstanding their client’s instructions. The NJP is investigating whether further legal action could be taken.