UN takes Australia to task over archaic fines laws that resulted in Ms Dhu’s death in custody

UN takes Australia to task over archaic fines laws that resulted in Ms Dhu’s death in custody

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.

Ms Dhu, a young Yamatji woman from Geraldton, died a cruel and inhuman death in 2014 after being locked away in a South Headland police cell for three days because she couldn’t pay fines she received as a teenager.

Nana Carol Roe, Ms Dhu’s grandmother, said she was still waiting for truth and justice.

“Australia needs to answer for everything that they have done to my people and especially for how they treated my granddaughter. Australia must be held to account,” said Ms Roe.

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Ruth Barson, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said at the conclusion of the coronial inquest into Ms Dhu’s death, the Coroner recommended that the Western Australian Government reform its fines laws to get rid of automatic imprisonment for fine default.

“Last night Australia was shamed on the world’s human rights stage because of Western Australia’s dangerous practice of locking up people who cannot afford to pay their fines. It’s been three painful years since Ms Dhu’s tragic death. There is no justifiable reason for delay – it’s time for bipartisan support for these archaic laws to be scrapped,” said Ms Barson.

In the past few weeks Western Australia’s unfair fines laws have seen a breastfeeding mother put behind bars, and a heavily pregnant woman at risk of being jailed because she couldn’t afford to pay her fines.

A promise to lead on Indigenous peoples’ rights was a central pillar to Australia’s successful bid to gain a seat on the UN Human Rights Council earlier this week.

Michael Coughlan from Indigenous Peoples’ Network Australia, who is currently in Geneva, said that the fine laws are a driver of the appallingly high rates at which Aboriginal people are over-imprisoned.

“We know these laws are harmful and we know they unfairly trap too many Aboriginal people. They belong in the garbage. Nobody should be subjected to the indignity and dangers of prison simply because they cannot afford to pay a fine,” said Mr Coughlan.