Global human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) will set up an Australian office by the end of 2011.
HRW LGBTI program advocacy director Boris Dittrich revealed the plans to the Star Observer while visiting Australia last week.
HRW has offices in more than 20 countries and an on-the-ground presence in more than 90 countries. Its core work is researching and investigating human rights abuses of all kinds.
“We go in country, we work together with groups on the ground,” Dittrich said.
“We interview victims, witnesses, policemen, politicians, lawyers, journalists — you name it — and we write a report and with that we try to convince the government to change its laws and policies and to end those human rights abuses.”
Dittrich said HRW was different from groups like Amnesty International because it didn’t rely on a membership base. This means the organisation can react quickly to unfolding events.
“We have a staff of about 300 people and so we can be very flexible and fast,” Dittrich said.
“If something happens in Libya today, our researchers can be there very quickly to work on the ground.”
Dittrich told how his work with the organisation had brought him face-to-face with some of the world’s most homophobic politicians — including in Uganda.
Dittrich said he had been invited to Uganda by murdered gay rights activist David Kato and had spoken to the internal affairs minister about GLBTI human rights.
“It was quite a telling meeting,” Dittrich said.
“He told me, ‘We don’t care about human rights — when we signed those treaties we didn’t realise that human rights were applicable to gay men or lesbian women’. He was really condescending.”
Before joining HRW, Dittrich was a Dutch MP and was responsible for introducing the world’s first same-sex marriage bill.
He said part of the reason for his visit to Australia was to talk to politicians about how to move forward on the issue of marriage equality.
Dittrich met with Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie, and Labor Party MPs Laurie Ferguson, Mark Dreyfus, Graham Perrett, and Senator Louise Pratt.
“I had asked for a meeting with the Attorney-General, but he was unable to see me,” Dittrich said. “However, I met with about seven of his staff members.”