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OPCAT: Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture

Rights Rights and Freedoms

Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)

Final Paper in the OPCAT consultation

The Commission published Implementing OPCAT in Australia on 29 June 2020. This was the final paper for the Commission's OPCAT project. 

Consultations on OPCAT

The Australian Government ratified OPCAT in December, 2017. In February 2017, the Commonwealth Attorney-General asked the Commission to conduct consultations with civil society in order to advise the Australian Government on views about how OPCAT should be implemented in Australia.

Edward Santow, the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, conducted this consultation in two phases.

The first phase was completed in 2017. The Commissioner published a consultation paper, received written submissions and held roundtables in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Darwin. The Commissioner summarised these views in an interim report to the Attorney-General in September 2017; the interim report was intended to inform the ratification process. 

A second and final phase of consultation was launched on 19 June 2018. Organisations were asked to provide feedback on the proposals contained in the interim report and on the detail of how OPCAT should be implemented in Australia. Roundtables were held in Canberra, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth. 

For more details see our OPCAT Consultation page.

What is OPCAT and what does it require?

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an international agreement aimed at preventing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. OPCAT was adopted in 2002 and entered into force in 2006. OPCAT is a human rights treaty that assists in the implementation of and builds on the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT) and helps States meet their obligations under CAT. The objective of OPCAT is to prevent the mistreatment of people in detention.

Under OPCAT, State Parties agree to establish an independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to conduct inspections of all places of detention and closed environments. In addition to the NPM, State Parties also agree to international inspections of places of detention by the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT). The SPT engages with states on a confidential basis and cannot publish reports and recommendations unless under agreement with the State Party. Furthermore, people who provide information to the SPT may not be subject to sanctions or reprisals for having done so.

The SPT included Australia in its 2020 schedule of visits; due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, this visit was postponed.

This video created by the Association for the Prevention of Torture provides a useful overview of OPCAT.

What is the status of OPCAT in Australia?

Australia has signed and ratified CAT. CAT sets out the core obligations to prevent torture and other forms of mistreatment. On 19 May 2009, the Australian Government signed OPCAT. On 9 February 2017 the Australian Government announced its intention to ratify OPCAT, and in December 2017 the instruments of ratification were lodged with the UN.  In signing and ratifying OPCAT, the Australian Government has taken a significant step towards establishing enhanced oversight of Australian places of detention, and improvement in conditions.

The Commission's work in relation to OPCAT

OPCAT assists Australia in meeting its existing international human rights obligations.

Following ratification in December 2017, the Australian Government is now in the process of establishing a national system of visits to all places of detention where people are deprived of their liberty. The objective of the Commission's consultation on OPCAT is to feed back the views of stakeholders, primarily civil society organisations, regarding how OPCAT should be implemented in Australia. 

The Commission works to protect the human rights of immigration detainees, prisoners, and young people in the juvenile justice system. In particular, the Commission has reported on the conditions of immigration detainees in Australia since the introduction of mandatory immigration detention in 1992. The Commission conducts regular inspections of immigration detention facilities in order to monitor whether the conditions and the treatment of immigration detainees comply with Australia’s human rights obligations.

For further information on the Commission’s work on immigration detention, click here. For more information on the work of National Children’s Commissioner in relation to youth justice click here.

The Commission’s Director of Policy and Programs, Darren Dick speaks with Mark Thomson, Secretary-General of the Association for the Prevention of Torture about OPCAT and Australia.

Useful links

United Nations Links

Australia and OPCAT links

OPCAT and Prevention of Torture


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Webpage Last Updated June 2021