Implementation of torture prevention treaty must not be undermined by Government cynicism

Implementation of torture prevention treaty must not be undermined by Government cynicism

The Australian Government should not be allowed to pick and choose what detention facilities can be scrutinised under the UN anti-torture treaty, the Human Rights Law Centre said in a submission to the Human Rights Commission.

Ruth Barson, a director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the independent oversight body – not the Government – should decide what places of detention should be the subject of inspections.

“It would be very cynical of the government to commit to the anti-torture treaty, yet at the same time undermine it by keeping its deepest darkest places of misery hidden from scrutiny. Half-baked implementation of the treaty risks undermining the whole purpose of it,” said Ms Barson.

The Australian Government ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) – a mechanism to prevent cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in places of detention – in December last year. At the time, the Australian Government denied its obligations extended to Australia’s offshore facilities on Manus Island and Nauru.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is tasked with holding consultations and advising the Government on implementation. The HRLC’s submission addresses how OPCAT should be fully and properly implemented and recommends the following basic principles be applied:

  • Australia’s offshore facilities on Manus Island and Nauru should be included and subject to independent inspections;

  • The decision of whether or not a facility constitutes a place of detention should be left to the independent inspector to determine;

  • There should be stand-alone legislation safeguarding the inspector’s independence and containing whistle-blower protections; and

  • There should be a commitment to establish stakeholder working groups to consult with the government on proper implementation of OPCAT.

Ruth Barson said that the Australian Government should keep its promise and fully implement the anti-torture treaty and the principles that underpin it.

"The whole purpose of this treaty is to prevent abuse through transparency. It defeats that purpose if the Government can just deliberately shield politically inconvenient places of detention from public scrutiny,” said Ms Barson.

The Human Rights Law Centre's submission can be found here.

For interviews call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519