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Issue #1766      February 22, 2017

Torture treaty and offshore detention

Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) has the potential to radically improve conditions in detention in Australia and offshore, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson, barrister Greg Barns, said this treaty would provide for inspections of all places of detention, shining a light on places where the risk of torture and ill-treatment are highest.

“The United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture doesn’t restrict its attentions to prisons. All places where people are kept against their will be scrutinised under this treaty, including police stations and immigration detention facilities,” Barns said.

The treaty applies to all places under the “jurisdiction and control” of the government. Where a government detains people in other countries, the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) recommends that they enter into an agreement with that country to allow monitoring of offshore detention facilities.

Barnes said that as such, there is no reason the treaty would not apply to offshore immigration detention and that the OPCAT is a unique human rights treaty, bringing implementation of human rights obligations home to Australia. It establishes the SPT, which conducts visits to places of detention, has private interviews with detainees and makes recommendations to reduce the risk of torture and ill-treatment.

Mr Barns said that OPCAT also requires countries to establish their own monitoring bodies, known as National Prevention Mechanisms (NPMs), which are responsible for regularly monitoring detention, and reporting back to the government and the SPT to eliminate the risks of mistreatment.

“The Australian Lawyers Alliance has been calling for this treaty to be ratified for years. Given the dire situation in Australian detention facilities in Nauru and Manus Island, agreements must be sought with those countries to allow Australian monitors to enter the facilities, interview detainees and assess the risk of torture.

“Australian workplace health and safety law applies in these countries, and monitoring is absolutely essential.

“The treaty will also have an important impact at home. Over the past 12 months we have seen horrific instances of torture and ill-treatment across Australia. In the Northern Territory, the mistreatment of children in Don Dale has been occurring for years. Despite the clear risks of mistreatment, children continue to be detained in adult prisons in Victoria.

“Deaths in custody may continue if there is no monitoring, Any death in custody is horrific,” said Mr Barns.

“This treaty will have an immediate, positive impact in ensuring that people detained by Australian governments are kept safe.”

Next article – Taking Issue – The renewed Cold War

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