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Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Racism

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Throughout Australia’s history, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people have been heavily prejudiced, mistreated and discriminated against. For instance, from 1910-1970 mixed race Aboriginal children were taught stolen from their homes and forced to learn western culture alternatively to their own culture. These children were known as the ‘Stolen Generation.’ The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified in 1948 on December 10th and recognised that human rights are universal and available to all humans. Some of these rights include the right to privacy, the right to life and the right to a nationality. The declaration then led to multiple civil rights movements in the U.S including the Bus Boycotts (1955-1956), the Freedom Rides (1961) and the March on Washington which caused a significant change in the way Australia treated Indigenous Australians. The US Civil Rights movement impacted activism in Australia during the 1960s, which have brought about noteworthy changes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples concerning basic human rights. In contempt of this, there is still a long way to come in terms of equality.

The U.S Civil Rights Movement was a battle for equality during the 1950s and 1960s in America so African Americans could share the same human rights as the whites. This movement commenced with the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 which declared all humans equal under the law and influenced many other social justices. The civil rights movement began with Rosa Parks, an African American activist arrested for refusing to get out of her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1st, 1955. Martin Luther King recalled “Mrs. Parks was ideal for the role assigned to her by history.” On December 5th, 1955, 90% of African Americans refused to get on their busses and a decision was made later that day to turn the boycotting into a long-term campaign. Soon after the bus boycotts, nine African American students enrolled at formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, on September 4th, 1957 which exercised their right to an equal education and was a huge symbol of anti-segregation. President Dwight Eisenhower had to employ federal guards to protect the students due to sever harassment from students at the school. On the 20th of September police had to escort the little rock nine through a highly aggressive mob of 1000 people protesting their actions. The U.S Civil Rights Movement was an extremely important part of history and this movement would later heavily influence Indigenous Australian human rights.

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The American Civil Rights movement influenced Australia heavily in terms of racial equality. Indigenous Australians were almost completely ignored by white Australians, but the many American civil rights movements encouraged Australia people to begin making changes in the way they were treating the traditional owners of their land. The Eddy Mabo Case was a famous case in Australia, 1982, that involved recognising the land rights of the Meriam people, traditional owners of the Murray Islands. In 1992 the high court decided that the lands of Australia are not ‘terra nulius’ (land belonging to no one) and that Meriam people were ‘entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of (most of) the lands of the Murray Islands’. Due to the success of them in America, in 1965 Australia had freedom rides where University of Sydney students planned to expose the poor state of Aboriginal health, education and housing. The rides caused anger from Australians for Indigenous people to be treated far better. Australia displayed the freedom rides on media platforms as much as they could to ensure the pubic were aware of how Aboriginals were living. The civil rights movement in America heavily influenced how Australia chose to treat Indigenous peoples.

Civil rights movements in Australia caused huge changes to be made by the Australian government and promoted human rights to all races. Many anti-segregation events that took place in Australia such as the Freedom Rides in 1965 and the Mabo case in 1982 promoted changes to be made. On May 27th 1967, a referendum took place to amend the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census. The results came out as 90.77% uniform YES to consider Aboriginals the same as every other Australian citizen. In 1975, To begin the battle for Aboriginal land rights, the Whitlam government gave back 3300 square km of land to the Gurindiji people. Later in 1992 the Mabo case revoked ‘terra nulius’ and Aboriginals were able to take ownership of their land.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was extremely successful in causing positive changes in racial equality. Australia was heavily influenced by America’s civil rights movement and Australia’s Freedom Rides and the Mabo case caused hugely positive changes in the law. With more intervention, and national support, the lives of Aboriginal people can continue to progress and flourish.

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Racism. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Racism.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Racism. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2023].
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Racism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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