Invited UN Inspectors Cut Visit Short, as Rights Violations Continue Under Albanese

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UN Inspection

The UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) on Sunday cut its long-awaited visit to our nation short, due to a number of state authorities denying cooperation to the independent experts, whilst supposedly rights-forward PM Anthony Albanese has been decidedly silent on the matter.

The advisory body was here to consider Australia’s implementation of the OPCAT, which is an international agreement our country has ratified, that requires local bodies to inspect closed environments, like prisons and youth detention facilities, in order to prevent human rights abuses.

“It is deeply regrettable that the limited understanding of the SPT’s mandate and the lack of co-operation stemming from internal disagreements… has compelled us to take this drastic measure,” SPT delegation head Aisha Shujune Muhammad said in a statement.

“This is not a decision that the SPT has taken lightly.”

The main offender in this debacle was the NSW Coalition government, which denied the SPT entry into a place of detention, while state corrections minister Geoff Lee made out on 2GB that these UN inspectors tried to force their way into prisons, when the entire nation invited them to do so.

The Queensland Labor government also played its part, by announcing the independent experts could enter its correctional facilities, but not the inpatient units, where inmates with mental health or medical conditions are locked up.

Indeed, the Morrison government trashed this nation’s human rights standing internationally, while the Albanese government has vowed to reverse this. However, standing idly by and watching an esteemed UN body be run out of town by belligerent state MPs isn’t going to improve our image.

“A clear breach… of obligations”

The OPCAT (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture) was adopted by the UN in 2002. It requires nations that have ratified it to establish a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), which are independent inspection teams that conduct unannounced visits to all places of detention.

Then federal attorney general George Brandis ratified the OPCAT in December 2017. A move that was obviously due to the fallout from the 2016 Don Dale revelations that broadcast to the globe that Australia has youth prisons where guards abuse and torture children, mainly First Nations kids.

Under the Morrison government, the nation missed its four-year deadline to implement OPCAT last January. And as the SPT delegation points out no “overarching legislation to translate its international obligations into domestic law” has been forthcoming.

The abuses at Darwin’s Don Dale youth detention centre, and other child prisons around the nation, continue. Last year holds the record for the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, while Indigenous people make up 31 percent of adult prisoners but less than 3 percent of the populace.

And despite having enacted white supremacist policies as its first acts of parliament and stealing land from First Nations people, whilst placing them in camps where their lives were dictated to them, Australia had managed to maintain a façade of a human rights champion for many years.

However, this international reputation fell down some time ago, and it keeps getting worse.

Close Don Dale Now

Not only did the federal government ratify OPCAT in response to the torture and abuse of children at Don Dale being exposed to the world, but it also launched a Royal Commission into youth detention, which led to the determination to shut down the youth prison.

But Don Dale continues to operate. It’s overcrowded and rife with self-harm incidents.

In a statement in response to the SPT’s departure, the Close Don Dale Now campaign declared that “Australia has become an outlier as far as human rights are concerned”, adding that the “noncooperation by… authorities is yet another indictment on this country’s human rights record”.

“Clearly the federal Labor government has no intention of trying to improve our already embarrassing human rights reputation,” Close Don Dale Now continued.

“This latest disappointment compounds the fears and anxieties for the children locked up, with record numbers of self-harms and attempted suicides in conditions which are unfit for human habitation.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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