Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' Rights
The HRLC’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' Rights impact area was established in October 2012 to deepen the Centre’s work in partnership with Indigenous organisations to protect and promote the rights of Indigenous peoples. The impact area is both responsive and agenda-setting, receiving requests for assistance as well as working with Indigenous organisations to identify significant and systemic human rights issues.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' Rights impact area focuses on the following priorities:
- reducing the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in all aspects of the criminal justice system including issues relating to imprisonment rates, police powers, conditions in detention and the nexus between the child protection system and over-representation;
- ensuring access to basic social and economic rights in remote Indigenous communities, including in particular the rights to education and housing; and
- promoting in particular, the rights of Indigenous women, children and young people in these focus areas.
One day after the Northern Territory Government gave an in principle promise to raise the age of criminal responsibility, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has released data painting a diabolical picture of punitive and out-of-date youth justice systems across Australia.
The Northern Territory today became the first government to commit to raising the age at which children can be charged and sent to prison.
The closure of the NT's notorious Don Dale youth prison couldn’t come soon enough, but the Turnbull Government needs to help fund the creation of safe, home-like facilities built for children to replace it.
The Federal Government has completely failed to lead in its response to the Northern Territory Royal Commission’s report on how to fix failing youth justice and child protection systems.Shahleena Musk, a Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the Federal Government was trying to wash its hands of responsibility at the very time it needed to show leadership to fix broken youth justice systems across Australia.
The Australian Government has ratified an important UN torture prevention treaty. The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) is a mechanism established to prevent cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in places of detention.
The tide of condemnation against Australia’s human rights record is rising, with the United Nations expert panel on racial discrimination, criticising Australia’s failure to combat racism in a report released overnight.
The UN expert committee on racial discrimination issued a please explain to the Australian Government overnight, asking how it will eliminate racial discrimination in the remote ‘work for the dole’ program imposed on remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Following Universal Children’s Day, doctors, lawyers, health and human rights experts from across Australia are calling for the age when children can be held criminally liable to be raised to at least 14 years so that primary school aged children are not entangled in the criminal justice system.
“The Royal Commission laid bare the devastating cost of removing children from their families and locking them away behind bars. Prisons fail children," said Shahleena Musk.
The Australian Government was again grilled last night at the United Nations in Geneva with the Human Rights Committee taking aim at the failure to scrap the cruel fines laws that resulted in Ms Dhu’s tragic death in custody.
The Federal Government’s Welfare Reform Bill contains stigmatising and needlessly punishing measures, whilst giving too much power over the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities to an unelected bureaucrat.
“This is the most significant UN position Australia has sought since the Security Council. Relatively speaking Australia is likely to be a positive force for reform on the Council, but if it wants to have the credibility required to be a true human rights leader it can't continue to blatantly breach international law itself. There's no doubt that it's cruel treatment of refugees will hamstring Australia's efforts on Council," said Emily Howie.
In a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council, the Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT and Human Rights Law Centre urged the Australian Government to abandon its racially discriminatory ‘Community Development Program’ and replace it with an Aboriginal-led model.
Adrianne Walters, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that state and territory criminal justice systems are out of balance and that governments around Australia have a responsibility to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to stem the number of people being sent to prison.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities are being denied basic rights and fair payment for work as a result of a racially discriminatory Federal Government program. That was the message the Human Rights Law Centre had for the Senate Committee examining the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Government’s remote work for the dole program.
“The Government has not pointed to any evidence that these measures will help people recover from drug or alcohol addiction or get them into work. Rather, they will aggravate economic disadvantage, and perpetuate wrongful stereotypes about people who turn to Australia’s social safety net in times of need,” said Adrianne Walters.
The Human Rights Law Centre today welcomed the repeal of Northern Territory alcohol laws that unfairly and disproportionately impact Aboriginal people, but urged the Government to follow through on its promise to remove draconian paperless arrest laws.
The Federal Government’s Welfare Reform Bill contains unfair and needlessly punishing measures, while giving too much power over the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities to an unelected bureaucrat, the Human Rights Law Centre has told a Senate inquiry.
“It’s been three years since the cruel death of Ms Dhu in police custody. Three years for the WA Government to right clear wrongs. Ms Dhu should never have been taken into custody in the first place," said Adrianne Walters.
"The NT Government should be urgently finding ways to reduce Aboriginal peoples’ contact with the criminal justice system,” said Senior Lawyer Shahleena Musk.
More examples of the serious mistreatment and harm to children in Australian youth detention centres have been detailed in damning reports from Western Australia’s independent Inspector of Custodial Services and Queensland’s Youth Detention Inspectorate.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be denied basic rights the United Nations reported overnight.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities are being denied basic rights, equal treatment and fair payment for work, as a result of Federal Government policy, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and the Human Rights Law Centre told a Senate inquiry.
As the Australian Government campaigns for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are being torn apart by punitive laws and a lack of investment in community-based prevention programs, the UN heard overnight.
The over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a growing national crisis that is being overlooked by all levels of government in Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre and Change the Record said in a new report. HRLC's Adrianne Walters said, “The tragic and preventable death of Ms Dhu is a devastating example of what happens when the justice system fails Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
“All the data shows that these laws are being overwhelmingly used against Aboriginal people. Twenty-six years ago the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made clear that locking someone up should only ever be a last resort and that police should be required to consider safer options,” said HRLC's Adrianne Walters.
The Human Rights Law Centre welcomes Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis' announcement today that Australia would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other mistreatment (OPCAT) by the end of the year.
The Government’s decision to regazette Barwon adult jail as a youth justice facility is an act of utter bad faith, say human rights lawyers.
Only yesterday the Victorian Court of Appeal upheld the Supreme Court’s decision that the Victorian Government acted unlawfully in gazetting Barwon adult prison as a youth justice facility.
The Victorian Court of Appeal today unanimously confirmed that the Victorian Government acted unlawfully in transferring children to the Barwon adult jail. The Court was hearing an appeal against last week's Supreme Court ruling.
Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, “Jailing children in the state’s most notorious adult prison was a terrible mistake. The government needs to house these children in a safe, lawful and appropriate facility.”
The Victorian Court of Appeal will tomorrow hear the appeal against last week’s Supreme Court ruling that the Victorian Government acted unlawfully in transferring children to the Barwon adult jail. The Court of Appeal is expected to make its decision on the appeal at the end of tomorrow’s hearing.
"No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones." So said Nelson Mandela after spending close to three decades of his life imprisoned.
It's 2017 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are again fighting against the systemic denial of fair pay for work. When people talk about stolen wages — the slavery-like system that saw Aboriginal people denied any or equal pay for hard work over decades — they typically speak of the past. But the pervasive and poisonous tentacles of systemic racism in Australia are very much of the present.
How children could be left to languish in solitary confinement; how the abuses in Don Dale went unchecked for so long before journalists and advocates exposed a system rotten to its core.This Friday Australia will be provided with answers.
Governments can no longer plead ignorance when it comes to the risks associated with locking up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The tragic and preventable death of Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old Yamatji woman, while in WA police custody because of unpaid fines is a devastating example of how the justice system fails our women.
Mandatory sentences are not the right tool for reducing crime, writes our Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser, following the misguided policy announcement from Victoria's Opposition Leader.
To achieve the Close the Gap measures, the federal and territory governments need to engage in genuine dialogue with Aboriginal people. The chronic crisis of overcrowding can only be addressed through a collaborative approach, with a view to ultimately giving control back to Aboriginal communities.
Just a day after Victoria’s highest court confirmed the government acted unlawfully in detaining children at the Barwon adult prison, the Minister has tried yet again to keep them there. The government is spending extraordinary resources defending the indefensible – jailing children in the state’s most notorious adult prison.
Brutal images of Aboriginal women and children being mistreated in custody are a defining feature of 2016. From Dylan Voller and the young detainees of Don Dale to Ms Dhu, Australians have been forced to reckon with the cruel reality of Australia's over-imprisonment crisis.
I've just returned from Barwon maximum security adult prison. I found myself squatting on the floor to talk to one of our clients – a 16-year-old child – through the trapdoor to his cell. The tight steel opening so small I could only see his anxious eyes. He is being held in solitary confinement; pacing his cell, uncertain when he will be let out. He hasn't seen the sky since Thursday.
We need to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the riot at the Parkville Youth Justice Centre. We don’t need lazy, kneejerk populist responses, like transferring kids to adults jails, which are designed to sound tough on crime and which in fact will only make things worse.