Australian law must strengthen safeguards against official complicity in torture and the death penalty

Australian law must be strengthened to prevent Australian officials from directly or indirectly exposing people to serious human rights violations, including torture and the death penalty. The Federal Parliament's Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs is currently examining a Bill to amend the Extradition Act and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.

In a submission to the Committee, the Human Rights Law Centre has called on the Bill to be strengthened to ensure that, in accepting extradition requests and cooperating with foreign criminal investigations, Australian officials are not complicit in serious breaches of human rights.

“Australian law should absolutely prohibit the involvement of Australian officials in exposing a person to death, torture, cruel treatment or a flagrant denial of justice,” said HRLC Executive Director, Phil Lynch.

Under proposed amendments to the Mutual Assistance Act, the risk of exposing a person to torture will be one of the mandatory grounds to refuse assistance to another country in a criminal investigation. The possibility of exposing a person to the death penalty, however, is not a mandatory ground of refusal of assistance.

Further, under proposed amendments to both Acts, there is no prohibition against Australia extraditing or providing assistance in situations where it would expose a person to the real risk of violation of other fundamental human rights, such as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or unfair trial proceedings.

The HRLC submission welcomes a number of important amendments proposed under the Bill, including provisions to extend protections against extradition to situations where a person will face discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“Although the proposed Bill contains some important additional safeguards, if the Government is fully committed to protecting and promoting human rights, these safeguards must be strengthened and need to be non-negotiable,” Mr Lynch said.

A number of other leading human rights organisations and experts have also called for safeguards in the Bill to be enhanced, including the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Law Council of Australia and Professor Ivan Shearer (a former member of the UN Human Rights Committee).