Australia must bring youth justice in line with international standards

Australia’s youth justice practices breach international human rights law, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Law Centre told the United Nations in a statement read before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Ruth Barson, said, “The world was shocked by images of children being hooded, restrained and tear gassed. We have since seen further evidence of abuse and mistreatment in Queensland.

“Children around the country continue to be held in conditions amounting to solitary confinement. The use of solitary confinement on children, for any duration, is not permitted under international human rights law. Exposing vulnerable children to harmful practices should not be tolerated. Australia must protect the rights of children in detention,” said Ms Barson.

Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Julian Cleary, said that Australia has no excuse for maintaining sub-standard youth justice practices, like allowing for the imprisonment of 10-year-old children, which is below the internationally accepted minimum age of 12 years.

“Our national government should work with all Australian jurisdictions to review their youth justice systems to ensure they are human rights compliant. Australia should be a leader in youth justice practices, rather than being shamed on the world stage for our treatment of children,” said Mr Cleary.

Australia signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) in 2009, but has yet to ratify it, which is the additional step required for the treaty to be legally binding. Ratification of OPCAT would help protect children from torture and ill treatment by requiring Australia to establish an independent monitoring and oversight system for all places of detention. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently urged Australia to ratify OPCAT.

“Independent inspections and oversight of detention facilities are critical to protecting the human rights of people in detention. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. There is no reason to delay ratification any longer,” said Ms Barson.

At the recent UN review of Australia’s human rights record, a number of countries recommended that Australia urgently address the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 24 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be sent to youth prisons. It’s time for the federal and all state and territory governments to prioritise action to close the justice gap and to ensure that imprisonment of children is a last resort,” said Mr Cleary.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre, +61 417 773 037

Julian Cleary, Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Amnesty International, +61 432 516 512