Joint statement of concern regarding suspension of UN Subcommittee on Torture visit to Australia following lack of co-operation in New South Wales and Queensland

We express profound concern that the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has been forced to take the drastic measure of suspending its visit to Australia due to obstruction encountered while attempting to carrying out its mandate during its visit to Australia under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

We strongly condemn decisions to refuse to allow the SPT to access New South Wales detention facilities and Queensland inpatient units and to provide the SPT with requested information and documentation. 

This obstruction is a clear breach by Australia of its obligations under OPCAT. States parties have an obligation to both receive the SPT in their territory and allow it to exercise its mandate in full, including by allowing unfettered access to places of detention.  

OPCAT is designed to protect the fundamental human rights of people detained in places including, but not limited to, prisons, juvenile detention centres, immigration detention centres, hospitals, mental health facilities, aged care facilities and facilities for people with disability. 

The ability to carry out unannounced visits to detention facilities, conduct private interviews with people deprived of their liberty and review documentation is an essential element of the framework established under OPCAT.  

We therefore condemn in the strongest possible terms decisions that necessarily serve to obstruct or impede the preventive mandate of the SPT which is focused on a proactive approach to preventing the torture and ill treatment of vulnerable adults and children. 

Governments that are committed to the protection and promotion of international human rights standards in places of detention have nothing to fear from the granting of SPT access to all places of detention. 

Such access facilitates the delivery of confidential expert recommendations to authorities that serve to strengthen protections against torture in their jurisdictions – an outcome that governments in a developed modern democracy such as Australia should both encourage and welcome.

Given that OPCAT applies to all federal states without limitations or exceptions, it is concerning that four years after Australia ratified OPCAT so little progress has been made to ensure consistent implementation of OPCAT obligations across all states and territories. 

We are deeply concerned that the approach taken in New South Wales and Queensland is a harbinger for future refusals to cooperate with regular preventive visits to places of detention by the independent National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) Australia is obliged to establish pursuant to implementing OPCAT.

Recalling that the right to be free from torture is a non-derogable norm of international law, we call the New South Wales and Queensland governments to affirm their commitment to the rules-based international legal system, reconsider their decisions to block access to places of detention and to instead co-operate fully with the SPT.

We further call on all jurisdictions across Australia to consider the recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Road Map to OPCAT Compliance and, where they are yet to legislate, commit to the urgent introduction of overarching legislation to translate Australia’s OPCAT obligations into domestic law

Media Contact: Matt Mitchell, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights media manager 0431 980 365

List of Signatories

Kerry Weste, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights

Steven Caruana, Coordinator, Australia OPCAT Network

A/Children’s Commissioner, Office of the Children’s Commissioner – Northern Territory

Sophie McNeil, Australia Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Keren Adams, Acting CEO, Human Rights Law Centre

Mat Tinkler, Group CEO, Save the Children Australia

James McDougall, Convenor, Australian Child Rights Taskforce

Sebastian Zagarella, CEO, People with Disability Australia

Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair Change The Record

Damian Giffis, CEO, First Peoples Disability Network

Professor Melissa Castan, Director Castan Centre for Human Rights Law

Professor Dr Megan Davis, Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law, Director, Indigenous Law Centre and Professor of Law, UNSW Law & Justice

Dr Mindy Sotiri, Executive Director, Justice Reform Initiative

Jana Favero, Director – Advocacy and Campaigns, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

George Newhouse, Director, National Justice Project

Greg Barns SC, National Criminal Justice Spokesman, Australian Lawyers Alliance

Brett Collins, Coordinator, Justice Action

Debbie Kilroy OAM, Chief Executive Officer, Sisters Inside Inc.

 Carolyn Frohmader, Executive Director, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) 

TasOPCAT, Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, University of Tasmania

Jozefa Sobski AO, National Convenor, Women’s Electoral Lobby

Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny, SCALES Community Legal Centre

Dr Gemma Killen, Acting CEO, ACT Council of Social Service Inc

Matilda Alexander, CEO, Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion

Josh Pallas, President, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties

Camilla Pandolfini, Principal Solicitor, Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Kate Swaffer, Human Rights Advisor, Dementia Alliance International

Greg McIntyre SC, President, International Commission of Jurists (Western Australian Branch)

Human Rights Act for New South Wales Alliance

Centre for Law and Social Justice at the University of Newcastle

Dr Shaton Shalev,

Professor Justine Nolan, Australian Human Rights Institute, UNSW Sydney

Sarah Dale, Centre Director & Principal Solicitor – Refugee Advice & Casework Service 

Scientia Professor Jane McAdam AO, Director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney

Madeline Gleeson, Senior Research Fellow, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney

Tabitha Lean & Debbie Kilroy, National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls

Ms Wendy Prowse, CEO, Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service

Vasili Maroulis, Principal Solicitor, Marrickville Legal Service

Alison Battisson, Director Principal, Human Rights For All

Robin Banks and Michael Small, Directors, Equality Building

Jonathon Budgeon, Deputy Chair, Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania

Dulce Munoz down, National Convenor, Mums 4 Refugees

Helen Blaber, Director, Principal Solicitor. Prisoners’ Legal Service (Qld)

Paige Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer, Queenslanders with Disability Network

Elizabeth Evatt AC

Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum AO former Chair of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee

Professor Mary Crock, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney 

Professor Larissa Behrendt, University of Technology Sydney, Director of Research and Academic Programs Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research

Professor Bronwyn Naylor, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University. 

Associate Professor Hannah McGlade, Member, UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues

Professor Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law, The University of Sydney

Paul Silva, Nephew of David Dungay Jr

Latoya Aroha Rule, National Ban Spit hoods Coalition, family of Wayne Fella Morrison & Research Associate – University of Technology Sydney 

Carmel Lee, Barrister, Greenway Chambers

Greg McIntyre SC, Barrister, Michael Kirby Chambers

Dr Piers Gooding, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Law School

Julian Trollor, Chair, Intellectual Disability Mental Health & Head, Department of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry, Professor and NHMRC Leadership Fellow

Discipline of Psychiatry and Mental Health, UNSW Medicine & Health

Kate Swaffer, Independent Researcher and Campaigner, Honorary Associate Fellow, Faculty of Science, Medicine & Health, University of Wollongong 

Associate Professor Laura Grenfell, Law School, University of Adelaide

Lorana Bartels, Professor of Criminology, Australian National University; Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Canberra and University of Tasmania.

Prof Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Prof Penny Crofts, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Dr Elyse Methven, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Dr Linda Steele, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Dr Craig Osmond, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Ms Lisa Billington, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Ms Kate Thomas, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law

Craig Foster, Former Socceroo

Dr Louis Schetzer, Teaching Fellow, University of New South Wales Law

Professor Simon Rice, OAM, University of Sydney Law School

Associate Professor Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle School of Law and Justice

Professor Melissa Castan, Monash University Law Faculty

Professor David Kinley, Chair of Human Rights Law, FASSA, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney

Irene Baghoomians, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney Law School

Simon Katterl, Human Rights and Mental Health Consultant

Professor Philomena Murray. Honorary Professorial Fellow. School of Social and Political Sciences. The University of Melbourne

Professor Irene Watson, Pro Vice Chancellor Aboriginal Leadership and Strategy, and Professor of Law, School of Law, University of South Australia Business School

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