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UN Representative Criticizes Australia's Aboriginal Policies as Racist

A U.N. representative says Australia's intervention in dozens of troubled Aboriginal communities is discriminatory and breaches the country's international human-rights obligations.

The U.N. special investigator on indigenous people, James Anaya, says that Aborigines in Australia face entrenched racism. He says the government's controversial intervention in dysfunctional communities in the Northern Territory continued to discriminate against Aborigines.

Two years ago troops, medical staff and social workers were deployed in an attempt to combat violence and rampant abuse of children in some aboriginal communities. Racial discrimination laws were suspended to allow the controversial policy to be implemented.

Alcohol and pornography were banned in the communities and indigenous residents were forced to spend a portion of their welfare payments on essentials such as food.

Some activists say the measures violate human rights because they only target Aborigines.

Anaya, an American professor of human rights law, says he agrees with that assessment.

"These measures overtly discriminate against aboriginal peoples, infringe their right of self-determination and stigmatize already stigmatized communities," he said.

Anaya just completed a 12-day tour to learn more about Australia's most disadvantaged community. Indigenous groups, church leaders and social justice organizations requested his visit.

Anaya is the first U.N. investigator on indigenous people to visit Australia's aboriginal communities. He congratulated Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for the historic apology he made last year to the country's original inhabitants for past injustices.

Anaya also welcomed calls for a new national body to represent Australia's Aborigines, which will need government approval.

Tom Calma, from the Australian Human Rights Commission, proposed the body, saying it will give the disadvantaged a powerful voice.

"It is a historic day. It is a day when as aboriginal and Torres Strait people we begin a new journey when we express our determination to put our futures in our hands," he said.

A recent study has found the gap between non-indigenous Australians and their aboriginal neighbors was growing in areas such as child abuse and domestic violence. Aborigines also are more likely than other Australians to suffer from a variety of health problems, including chemical addiction, and their average life span is 17 years less.

Prime Minister Rudd said it was "a devastating report" on an unacceptable situation.