The following information is based on the Amnesty International Report 2020/21. This report documented the human rights situation in 149 countries in 2020, as well as providing global and regional analysis. It presents Amnesty lnternational’s concerns and calls for action to governments and others. During 2020, the world was rocked by COVID-19. The pandemic and measures taken to tackle it impacted everyone, but also threw into stark relief, and sometimes aggravated, existing inequalities and patterns of abuse.

Australia Human Rights 2020

In 2020, violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples, refugees and asylum-seekers continued to cause concern. The enforcement of government COVID-19 measures lacked accountability and transparency.


The year 2020 began with the worst bushfires in Australia’s living memory. Thirty-four people died and thousands remained displaced. A state of emergency was introduced in March of 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government placed vast swathes of the country into lockdown.


As the #BlackLivesMatter movement protests took place around the world, Australia confronted the fact that since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its recommendations in 1991, more than 400 Indigenous people had died in police custody with no charges ever having been brought against detaining officers.

The over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons received heightened attention in both the media and in government policy. A report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in September of 2020 showed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 29% of the prison population but only 5% of the total population.

The movement to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 gained substantial public support, despite national lawmakers declining to bring Australia into line with international standards. Almost three in five children in detention were Indigenous. In August of 2020, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) announced that it would be the first jurisdiction in Australia to increase the age to 14.


In 2020, the harsh offshore detention regime for refugees and asylum-seekers continued for a seventh year. At least 241 people were held offshore, despite repeated offers from the New Zealand government to resettle up to 150 people per year.

Those who had been evacuated from immigration detention in Papua New Guinea, including Manus Island, for medical care in Australia remained in so-called alternative places of detention (APODs) with no indication of when they would be released.

The re-opening of the Christmas Island immigration detention centre in August 2020 raised alarm among refugees and asylum-seekers as they feared that they would still remain in indefinite detention.

Australia suspended its humanitarian resettlement programme due to the pandemic in March 2020, but the government began a review of the Community Sponsorship Program for refugees in July 2020.


Overzealous policing of COVID-19 restrictions, a lack of transparency on police enforcement guidelines, the disproportionate application of new regulations on marginalized communities and the extension of the state of emergency caused significant concern in 2020.

During the lockdown, police issued and then retracted fines for activities such as mountain biking, putting old holiday photos on social media and for a teenager taking driving lessons. People in Aboriginal communities with overcrowded and inadequate housing reported being harassed by police for having too many people in one dwelling.

In July 2020, in the city of Melbourne, state of Victoria, 3,000 ethnically diverse people in seven public housing buildings, many of whom had experienced war or persecution, were put into “hard lockdown” without notice, unable to leave their homes for any reason and without any indication of when the lockdown would lift. The Victorian Ombudsman found the lockdown breached Victorian human rights law.

The COVID-19 restrictions coincided with major Indigenous rights protests across the country. During this time, some politicians claimed that COVID-19 cases were linked to the protests, which was strenuously refuted by health authorities.


Attacks on the rights of the LGBTI community were made throughout 2020 through various attempts to change anti-discrimination laws at a federal and state level, which would prioritize the right to freedom of religion over other rights. Some advances were made by the state of South Australia and the ACT to end “conversion” practices for LGBTI people.



Australia Newsroom

November 21, 2018 • Report

Papua New Guinea: Australian and PNG leaders must act urgently to save lives on Manus Island

The misery of indefinite detention in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is pushing increasing numbers of refugees and people seeking asylum to suicide attempts and self-harm, a new report by the …

January 31, 2018 • Report

Punishment not protection: Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea

The Australian government has abandoned hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, leaving them in a situation that more closely resembles punishment instead of protection in Papua New Guinea, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

April 3, 2017 • Report

Treasure Island: How Companies Are Profiting from Australia’s Abuse of Refugees on Nauru

A major corporation responsible for running the Australian government’s refugee “processing” centre on Nauru is making millions of dollars from a system that amounts to torture of refugees and people seeking asylum, Amnesty International said today.

October 14, 2016 • Report

Australia’s regime of cruelty has turned Nauru into an open-air prison

The Australian government is subjecting refugees and asylum seekers to an elaborate and cruel system of abuse – brazenly flouting international law – just to keep them away from its …

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

May 15, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Australia 2013

Australia Head of state Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Head of government Julia Gillard Despite the establishment of a federal human rights committee to consider all new bills before Parliament, …

July 7, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Australia 2011

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Quentin Bryce Head of government: Julia Gillard (replaced Kevin Rudd in June) Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes Population: 21.5 million Life …

March 19, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Australia 2010

Head of state Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Quentin Bryce Head of government Kevin Rudd Death penalty abolitionist for all crimes Population 21.3 million Life expectancy 81.4 years Under-5 mortality …

February 18, 2021 • Press Release

Facebook Blocks Australian News Sites From Being Shared on its Platform

Responding to Facebook blocking Australian news sites from being shared on its platform Amnesty International Australia campaigner Tim O’Connor said: