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2009 Media Release: Australia agrees to make sure that all people in detention are treated well

Commission Commission – General

22 May 2009

Australia agrees to make sure that all people in detention are treated well

The Australian Human Rights Commission welcomes today’s announcement by the federal Attorney-General that Australia has signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“This is an important international agreement,” said Commission President Catherine Branson QC.  

“By signing this agreement, Australia has agreed that all places where people are kept in detention should be monitored to make sure that the treatment of those in detention meets human rights standards.”

There are many places of detention in Australia – including prisons, juvenile detention institutions, police stations, locked psychiatric wards, immigration detention centres and aged care hostels where residents are detained involuntarily.

“The fair and humane treatment of people in detention is a fundamental human right. People who are deprived of their liberty are vulnerable and too often we hear of breaches of detainee’s human rights,” Ms Branson said.

Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes said the Commission has investigated many complaints from people in immigration detention, and have reported instances where human rights have been breached to the federal Parliament.

“We also know that the human rights of prisoners are particularly at risk, especially those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent and people with an intellectual or psychiatric disability, who are disproportionately represented in the prison system,” said Commissioner Innes.

This treaty will require the Australian Government to develop a national system of visits to places of detention with the aim of preventing human rights breaches before they happen.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission, as Australia’s national human rights institution, should play a significant role in a national system of visits to places of detention,” Mr Innes said.

“We look forward to working with the government in implementing this Convention.”

Media contact: Paul Oliver on 0408 469 347