Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner is set to appear before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva next week to provide analysis of how Australia measures up against our obligations under the UN’s Convention Against Torture (CAT) and its associated Optional Protocol (OPCAT).
Commissioner Lorraine Finlay will join representatives from the Federal Government and a range of civil society organisations from November 14 – 16, and will be raising issues of concern about the rights of people detained in a range of facilities, including juvenile and immigration detention facilities, prisons, and certain health, aged care and disability settings.
The Commissioner will also highlight laws and policies which negatively impact on the rights, health and safety of specific people and communities.
The issues are documented in a submission the Australian Human Rights Commission has made to the Committee outlining a range of matters which Australia needs to address in order to comply with our international treaty obligations.
The most critical of these are the cruel treatment of children and young people in youth justice centres, the length of time that people are held in immigration detention and the repatriation of some asylum seekers to places of potential persecution. The Commissioner will also raise concerns about Australia’s OPCAT compliance process, including the suspension of a recent visit to Australia by a UN OPCAT inspection team. OPCAT is a UN treaty which establishes independent oversight mechanisms in relation to places of detention
The Commission’s submission contains 44 recommendations in relation to these issues and raises a range of other concerns regarding First Nations people, people with disability, older people, LGBTIQ+ people, human trafficking, violence against women and children, counter-terrorism legislation and Australia’s criminal justice system.
Commissioner Finlay said, “Every four years, representatives from Australia appear before the Committee to assist them evaluate how human rights are being implemented in our country in line with the CAT, to which Australia has been a signatory since 1985.
“Essentially, it’s part of a process that delivers an independent assessment of how Australia is tracking in relation to our CAT obligations. It’s a standard practice and is something that all countries which have ratified the CAT undertake on a regular basis.
“Following extensive community and stakeholder consultation, our submission to the Committee highlights issues of primary concern and provides recommendations for how governments across Australia can improve how we protect and advance the rights, health and safety of people at risk of violence or who our authorities place in various forms of detention.
“During my private meeting with the Committee, I’ll be drawing particular attention to our youth justice crisis and the very disturbing treatment of young people in the Banksia Hill, Ashley and Don Dale detention centres. I’ll be emphasising inhumane practices in our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. And I’ll be highlighting the ongoing and highly problematic use of spit hoods in various detention settings.
“I expect the Committee will also be interested in hearing more about the recent visit to Australia by the delegation from the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (UN SPT) which was suspended due to a lack of co-operation by the governments of NSW and Queensland.
“The extended deadline for Australia’s implementation of OPCAT is only a few months away and so the Committee will want to know how we can get our OPCAT compliance back on track following what happened with the UN SPT visit.
“I look forward to joining representatives from civil society and the Australian Government in Geneva to provide the Committee with a comprehensive analysis of how Australia is performing in relation to our human rights obligations and how we can work together to strengthen Australia’s reputation as a good global citizen.”
The Committee will release its observations in relation to Australia’s CAT compliance towards the end of December.
Commissioner Finlay's opening remarks to the CAT are available here:
Details of Australia’s involvement with the 75th Session of the UN Committee Against Torture are available on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.
The Commission’s Submission to the Committee Against Torture (2022) is available on the Commission’s website.
The Commission recently released a new report outlining the process for governments across Australia to meet the looming deadline for OPCAT compliance. View The Road Map to OPCAT Compliance here.
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