Australians show greater care than most for refugees, minorities, and immigrants

Australians are one of the least knowledgeable countries when it comes to human rights; and, among the top nations when suggesting refugees, various minorities, immigrants and those with little or no education need the most protection for their human rights.

Australians show greater care than most for refugees, minorities, and immigrants

A new global Ipsos poll conducted in 28 countries finds that only four in ten (43%) global citizens agree that everyone in their country enjoys the same basic human rights, casting doubt over how universal human rights actually are – even in some of the most developed countries. While two in ten (20%) neither agree nor disagree, one in three (33%) flat out disagree that everyone in their country enjoys the same basic human rights. Interestingly, people in Germany (63%) and China (63%) are most likely to agree, while those in South Africa (25%) and Italy (28%) are least likely.  Australia is on the average at 44%.

Key findings:

  • Just three in ten adults across 28 countries say human rights aren’t a problem in their country, ranging from 55% in Germany to 17% in Colombia. Australia is on the average at 30%.
  • Eight in ten people surveyed stress the importance of having laws that protect human rights in their country, in Australia the figure is similar (77%), although this does place us in the bottom eight countries on this measure.
  • More than half of those surveyed globally, and in Australia (both 53%), say laws that protect human rights make their life better.
  • However, two in three say some people take unfair advantage of them, more agree than disagree that only undeserving people benefit from them, and one in seven say there’s no such thing as human rights.
  • In Australia, it seems we have a slightly more positive view:
    • 57% believe some people take unfair advantage (making us the 7th most positive on this measure);
    • 26% agree whereas 38% disagree that only undeserving people benefit from them (making us the 5th most positive nation);
    • Only one in ten say there’s no such thing as human rights.
  • Four in ten people admit they know little to nothing about human rights, in Australia the figure is close to half (47%).
  • Globally, freedom of speech, the right to one’s life and the right to liberty rank as the most important human rights to be protected, whereas in Australia those we rated most highly were freedom from discrimination, the right to security (to be safe), and freedom of speech.
  • Globally and in Australia, children, the disabled, older people and women are the groups most widely believed to require protection for their human rights. However, in comparison to others globally we are more likely to suggest the following groups require protection for their human rights:
    • Refugees (nominated by 34% versus 24% globally), placing us as the most likely nation to nominate this group;
    • Ethnic minorities (29% vs 23% globally) – we are in 6th position globally;
    • LGBTI (27% vs 21%) – 7th position;
    • People with little or no education (26% vs 20%) – 8th position;
    • Immigrants (24% vs 19%) 5th position, and
    • Religious minorities (19% vs 15%) 7th
  • Among 14 organisations focusing on human rights, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International have the highest awareness levels globally, followed by the International Federation for Human Rights, Lawyers Without Borders and Human Rights Watch; all are widely seen as doing a good job, especially the ICRC.

In other findings from the study, just one in three (31%) agree that human right abuses are a problem in some countries, but they are not really a problem in their own country. In fact, four in ten (39%) disagree with this statement, acknowledging the existence of abuses in their homeland. One quarter (25%) neither agree nor disagree. The opinion that human rights abuses are not really a problem at home prevails is most prevalent in Germany (55%), Malaysia (48%) and Saudi Arabia (48%), while the opposite view is most widely shared in Colombia (69%), followed by South Africa, Peru, and Mexico (60% in all three). Again, Australia is on the average at 30%.

Among 16 groups of people, those most seen as in need of protection for their human rights are: children (selected by 56% of survey respondents globally), the disabled (48%), older people (44%) and women (38%).  Next are: people on low incomes (30%), refugees (24%), ethnic minorities (23%), young people (22%), people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (21%), the unemployed (21%), people with little or no education (20%) and immigrants (19%), religious minorities (15%), people with different political views (12%), part-time workers (11%), and prisoners (8%). While 2% believe none of these groups requires human rights protection, 10% don’t know.

However, in comparison to others globally, Australians are more likely to suggest the following groups require protection for their human rights:

  • Refugees (nominated by 34% versus 24% globally), placing us as the most likely nation to nominate this group;
  • Ethnic minorities (29% vs 23% globally) –we are in 6th position globally;
  • LGBTI (27% vs 21%) – 7th position;
  • People with little or no education (26% vs 20%) – 8th position;
  • Immigrants (24% vs 19%) 5th position, and
  • Religious minorities (19% vs 15%) 7th

 

Most acknowledge Importance of Human Rights, but admit knowledge is lacking

Most global citizens (78%) agree that it is important to have a law that protects human rights in their country, while just 6% disagree, 12% are neutral and 3% don’t know. Those most likely to believe that such as law is important are found in Serbia (90%), Hungary (88%), Colombia (88%) and South Africa (86%). Disagreement is most prevalent in Brazil (12%), Saudi Arabia (11%) and Turkey (11%). Again, Australia is on the average at 77%.  Similarly, 72% of global citizens feel that human rights are important to creating a fairer society, while only 8% disagree with this premise, 16% are neutral and 4% don’t know.  This is another measure where Australia is in line with the global average (70%).

Moreover, most global citizens and Australians (73% and 70% respectively) believe that there is such a thing as human rights, while 14% are closer to the opinion that there is no such thing.  One in ten (13%) don’t know or have no opinion about the issue.  In Australia, only one in ten (10%) say there’s no such thing as human rights.  Those most likely to believe that human rights do exist are citizens of Turkey (92%), South Korea (87%), Colombia (87%) and China (85%). Those most likely to disagree are found in Poland (29%), Brazil (26%) and Russia (21%).

While a much larger proportion consider them to be important, only 56% of global citizens say they know a great deal or a fair amount about human rights, with Australia being one of the less knowledgeable nations at 46%. Four in ten people across the 28 countries surveyed (38%) admit their ignorance on the topic, saying they know not very much or nothing at all about human rights.  In Australia closer to half admit their ignorance (47%). Citizens of Japan (65%) are those most likely to admit to knowing little or nothing about human rights, followed by those of Russia (56%), Hungary (56%), Mexico (53%) and Spain (52%). In contrast, about three quarters of those surveyed in Turkey (79%), South Africa (76%) and Malaysia (73%) claim to know at least a fair amount about them. 

The poll shows a great divide in the belief about the efficacy of human rights laws in the lives of citizens. While 53% believe that laws protecting human rights make a positive difference in their life, 7% say their impact is negative and 31% say they make no difference. One in ten (9%) are unsure. Those most likely to believe that these laws have a positive impact include residents of South Korea (75%), China (70%), Turkey (69%), India (69%) and Colombia (69%). In contrast, the prevailing view among respondents in Japan (54%), Serbia (50%), Italy (48%) and Germany (45%) is that laws protecting human rights make no difference to their life. Of note, one in eight adults in Argentina and Brazil (12% in each country) say these laws make a negative difference.

 

Who benefits? 

Many global citizens remain skeptical about who actually benefits from human rights’ protections:

  • Two in three global citizens (65%) agree with the suggestion that some people take unfair advantage of human rights, while just 10% disagree, 19% are neutral and 6% don’t know. Respondents from Colombia (78%), South Africa (78%), Peru (78%), Mexico (78%) and Serbia (76%) are most inclined to agree, while those from Belgium (44%) and Sweden (47%) are least likely to do so.
  • Nearly four in ten (37%) agree that the only people who benefit from human rights in their country are those who do not deserve them such as criminals and terrorists. Three in ten (31%) disagree with this statement, while 26% are neutral and 7% don’t know. Agreement is most prevalent in Brazil (60%), Peru (60%) and India (53%) and least common in Japan (16%), the United States (22%) and Canada (23%).

 

In Australia, it seems we have a less skeptical view:

  • 57% believe some people take unfair advantage (making us the 7th most positive on this measure);
  • 26% agree whereas 38% disagree that only undeserving people benefit from them (making us the 5th most positive).

On balance, half of global citizens (50%) reject the notion that human rights are meaningless to them in their daily life. The other half either agree that they are meaningless (19%), don’t feel strongly either way (25%), or don’t know (6%).  In Australia, half also (48%) reject the notion that human rights are meaningless to them in their daily life.

 

Freedom of Speech, Right to Life seen as paramount

From a list of 28 options, the human rights that are most commonly chosen among the four or five most important ones to protect are freedom of speech (32%) and right to life (no one can try to end your life) (31%). They are followed by: the right to liberty (27%), the right to equal treatment before the law (26%), freedom from discrimination (26%), freedom of thought and religion (25%), and the right to security (24%).

Other rights cited by more than 10% of all people surveyed across 28 countries include: the right of children to free education (20%), the right to freedom from slavery or forced labor (20%), the right to free or low-cost healthcare (20%), the right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment (19%), the right to privacy (19%), the right to a fair trial (18%), the right to work and to equal pay for equal work (18%), the right to vote (17%), the right to an adequate standard of living (14%), the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (11%), and the right to own property (11%).

Certain human rights far more important in some countries than they are globally (for a full listing, please see the graphic report):

  • Freedom of speech is more widely viewed as a priority in Sweden (45%), Peru (43%) Turkey (43%) and Germany (42%) as it is on average across the 28 countries (32%).
  • The right to life (no one can try to end your life) stands out in Colombia (60% vs. 31% globally), as does the right to free education for children (36% vs. 20% globally).
  • Three rights stand out in South Korea -- equal treatment before the law (44% vs. 26% globally), liberty (42% vs. 27% globally) and freedom from discrimination (40% vs. 26% globally).
  • Freedom of thought and religion is especially valued in Brazil (39% vs. 25% globally) as is the right to security (38% vs. 24% globally).
  • The right to bear arms is a priority for 15% in the United States vs. just 3% globally and no more than 5% in any other country.

 

In Australia we are more likely to suggest the following groups require protection for their human rights:

  • Refugees (nominated by 34% versus 24% globally), placing us as the most likely nation to nominate this group;
  • Ethnic minorities (29% vs 23% globally) –we are in 6th position globally;
  • LGBTI (27% vs 21%) – 7th position;
  • People with little or no education (26% vs 20%) – 8th position;
  • Immigrants (24% vs 19%) 5th position, and
  • Religious minorities (19% vs 15%) 7th

The United Nations leads in awareness among 14 organisations; all are seen as doing a good job protecting human rights

Among 14 organisations focusing on the protection of human rights, the United Nations is the only one known by a majority of global citizens (72%). Two organisations – the International Committee for the Red Cross (49%) and Amnesty International (48%) – are both known by about half of all those surveyed and three others – International Federation for Human Rights (27%), Lawyers Without Borders (24%) and Human Rights Watch (22%) are known by about one quarter of all respondents.

Each one of the 14 organisations is perceived to be doing a good job protecting human rights by a majority of those who are aware of them, chief among them the ICRC, with 67% of positive ratings. 

 

Organization

% aware

% good job protecting human rights

United Nations

72%

51%

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

49%

67%

Amnesty International

48%

55%

International Federation for Human Rights

27%

57%

Lawyers Without Borders

24%

54%

Human Rights Watch

22%

55%

Human Rights Campaign

14%

60%

Refugees International

14%

54%

Liberty

14%

50%

UN Watch

13%

52%

Global Rights

12%

54%

Protection International

8%

62%

International Rights Protection Office

7%

57%

Anti-Slavery International

6%

60%

Commenting on the findings, David Elliott, Director Ipsos Social Research Institute – NSW, said: “While many recognise they have limited knowledge regarding human rights, the three human rights that people across all nations most want to see protected are freedom of speech, freedom of thought and religion, and the right to equal treatment.  While these are viewed as the most fundamental rights, they are also the least universal ones.  Clearly, the findings for each country reflect each country’s specific history and situation, people’s sense of personal vulnerability, and their experiences.

“In Australia, it seems that we are a little unsure of the personal relevance of human rights, which probably reflects the reality of day to day life for many Australians.  Simple rights, such as freedom of speech, right to life, the right to liberty, equal treatment before the law, freedom of thought and religion, and the right to security freedom are taken for granted by many Australians

“We do however see the value and importance of human rights, with most stressing the importance of having laws that protect human rights in Australia.  Further, our views look to be positively shaped by our multicultural society and recent discussion in society and the media regarding issues surrounding refugees, religion and the LGBTI community, as we are more likely than most to nominate these sections of the community as requiring protection for their human rights.”