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Australia elected to UN human rights council for first time

Australia has been elected to the United Nations (UN) human rights council for the first time, after winning a respectable 176 votes.

The country had to compete against European powers France and Spain for a place on the 47-member council, but the French later withdrew its bid, leaving the space wide open to Australia. The majority of seats were uncontested, but there was some competition among nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia's appointment to the UN human rights council places it in a considerable position of power, as it will now have a voice when it comes to championing the rights of people both at home and overseas.

Nicole Bieske, humanitarian policy adviser at Oxfam Australia, welcomed the country's election to the council, but expressed concerns that it needs to ensure it is protecting its own people as well.

"Australia has an unprecedented opportunity to progress human rights in the Indo-Pacific region and globally as a member of the human rights council," she commented.

"This will require consistent and principled advocacy and a willingness to speak out when states are abusing their people.

"Instead of paying lip service to international human rights, Australia must ensure they are implemented at home and abroad."

Ms Bieske also called for better treatment of refugees in Australia, believing that the country's government should be prioritising this in light of its new position as a voice for the UN.

Julie Bishop, the country's foreign minister, said that Australia would be using its highly-coveted seat on the UN council to push for tighter scrutiny of nations that have "appalling" human rights records.

Also elected to the UN human rights council this time around were Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo - appointments that have attracted much more controversy than Australia's.

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