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Urgent action needed following termination of UN inspection

Rights and Freedoms

The Australian Human Rights Commission says an extraordinary decision to terminate a tour of Australian places of detention by United Nations inspectors reflects Australia’s fragmented approach to protecting the human rights of people in detention.

A delegation from the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (UN SPT) suspended its tour of Australia in October after being refused entry to places of detention in New South Wales and Queensland. The UN SPT last night took the extraordinary step of terminating the visit. Rwanda is the only other country ever to have had such a visit terminated.

The decision came exactly one month after Australia missed its extended deadline on January 20 to implement a vital human rights framework, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which Australia ratified in 2017 requiring it to put in place mechanisms to prevent torture and inhumane treatment in places of detention.

Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, Lorraine Finlay said: “This decision by the UN Subcommittee is disappointing but not undeserved. Australia has had years to meet our OPCAT obligations, but we have failed to deliver on our treaty promises.

“Australian governments must take this as a wake-up call and urgently prioritise implementation of their responsibilities under OPCAT to implement systems of oversight for all places of detention.”  

Commissioner Finlay and Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM called on Attorneys-General from across the country to meet urgently to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to OPCAT and to outline immediate and tangible steps for ensuring Australia complies with its OPCAT obligations.

Professor Croucher said, “This decision by the UN SPT reflects poorly on our country’s commitment to protecting the human rights of people in detention and is detrimental to Australia’s international standing.” 

The decision brings Australia a step closer to being placed on the UN’s Article 17 OPCAT non-compliance list, a collection of countries whose OPCAT compliance is substantially overdue.

“This outcome could severely damage Australia’s reputation as a leading advocate for a rules-based international system,” Professor Croucher said. 

OPCAT is designed to protect the rights, health and safety of people experiencing any kind of detention. This includes people in prisons, youth detention centres, immigration detention, hospitals, mental health facilities, aged care facilities and facilities for people with disability.

The Commission last year published a report outlining the process for Australian governments to comply with OPCAT. The Road Map to OPCAT Compliance is available on the Commission’s website:

The above statement by the Australian Human Rights Commission is from all eight of its commissioners:

Commission President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM
Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, Lorraine Finlay

Australia’s National Children’s Rights Commissioner, Anne Hollonds
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar AO
Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Ben Gauntlett

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Chin Tan
Age Discrimination Commissioner, The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO
Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins

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