The UTS Human Rights Awards have a long tradition of recognising those within the UTS community who are making a difference in the world. This year, a new award was introduced to recognise a community partner who has demonstrated an enduring commitment to defending human rights.
The inaugural UTS Champion for Human Rights is Dr Tim Soutphommasane – who attended this year’s awards in his final public engagement as the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Race Discrimination Commissioner.
Dr Soutphommasane received the Champion for Human Rights Award “for being a fearless and vocal defender of human rights and multiculturalism throughout his distinguished career in academia, policy and advocacy as Race Discrimination Commissioner”.
This year the Vice-Chancellor’s Social Justice and Human Rights Award went to Professor Bruce Pascoe, of the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education & Research at UTS, for his research into Aboriginal agriculture, food production and land management. This work is changing how Australian history and Aboriginal cultures are viewed and challenges the notion that pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians were “hunter-gatherers”.
The awards ceremony heard that he had done this not just through his research and passionate, public advocacy but also through the book Dark Emu, the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award winner and inspiration for the Bangarra Theatre Company production of the same name.
Introducing the Human Rights Awards, UTS’s Executive Director, Social Justice, Verity Firth, said UTS had an explicit commitment to social impact, enshrined in its new Social Impact Framework and its new Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion.
“While we are united in our effort to deliver public benefit through the university’s work, there are also people within our community who go ‘above and beyond’ to further human rights, social justice and inclusion,” she said. “It is our honour to acknowledge their contributions in the biennial UTS Human Rights Awards.”
Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs said many of UTS’s staff undertake important activities that contribute to the social good, often in a voluntary capacity. “It’s this energy, compassion and ‘heart’, this desire to help create a more socially just world, that makes me proud to be Vice-Chancellor.”
Guest speaker Dr Munjed Al Muderis shared his harrowing journey from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, through the hands of people smugglers in Asia to become one of the “boat people” spurned by Australia. He was held in the now-closed Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia, where he was addressed only by his number “928”, and where he feared for the safety of unaccompanied minors he saw there. Children were still to be found in detention, a practice that must end, he said.
Released from detention in 2000, he went on to become one of the country's most respected orthopaedic surgeons - a pioneer in osseointegration technology for amputees – and an active voice on human rights issues.
Dr Al Muderis ended his address with the simple advice for people to “be nice to each other”.
The other UTS Human Rights Award winners were:
You can see more detail and the full list of awards and commendations on the Human Rights Awards website.