Australia has failed to meet a crucial deadline for implementing its international anti-torture treaty obligations, despite receiving an extended timeframe for compliance to January 2023.
Australia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in December 2017. But we are yet to take essential steps to protect people in detention, through an effective and nationally consistent oversight mechanism (the ‘National Preventive Mechanism’ – NPM).
The role of the NPM is to provide oversight of police stations, prisons, youth detention centres, mental health facilities and immigration detention facilities, to ensure that basic human rights are being protected. We currently have an inadequate patchwork of systems for oversight across the country.
Jonathon Hunyor, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), says:
‘Australia has dropped the ball when it comes to OPCAT. Last year, a routine visit ended in international embarrassment when OPCAT inspectors were denied access to places of detention in New South Wales and Queensland.’
‘Australia has now failed to meet its January deadline for an effective and nationally consistent system of oversight of places of detention – even after receiving an extended time frame for compliance.
‘We continue to see breaches of human rights in detention settings across Australia – including for young people, people with disability, asylum seekers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Over the five years since Australia signed on to OPCAT, there have been multiple deaths in police custody, prisons and immigration detention – some of which may have been prevented with more effective and robust monitoring.’
‘In places like immigration detention centres, we see many examples of excessive force and the overuse of restraints like handcuffs. Figures recently obtained through Senate Estimates reveal 7,405 incidents involving use of force in immigration detention in a year – that’s about five incidents a year per detainee, on average.’
‘Our client Yasir* was forced to wear handcuffs to access offsite medical treatment while in immigration detention – despite a history of trauma and severe mental illness which were exacerbated each time the handcuffs were put on. Better oversight could have prevented this by requiring proper assessment of risk and alternatives that avoided further trauma and harm.’
‘We need the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to get serious about Australia’s commitment to ensuring people in all forms of detention are treated humanely and with dignity. The Australian Human Rights Commission has identified what needs to happen in its “Road Map to OPCAT Compliance”. There is no excuse for continued inaction.’
*Name changed to protect privacy
Dan Buhagiar, Media and Communications Manager, 0478 739 280