UN human rights chief condemns abuse of children in the Northern Territory

The UN's human rights chief, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, tonight condemned the cruel and inhumane treatment of children detained in the Northern Territory and called on Australia to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The Human Rights Law Centre echoes these calls.

“This condemnation from the UN High Commissioner highlights the gravity of human rights violations and the need for Australia to properly respond,” said the Human Rights Law Centre’s Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser. “The government must act now to ratify this important torture prevention treaty.”

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture requires governments to set up a system of independent investigation of places of detention to prevent torture and mistreatment. Australia signed the treaty in 2009 but for it to be legally binding Australia must take the additional step of ratification.

“For seven years ratification of this treaty has stalled. Transparency, independent oversight and inspections are fundamental tools in protecting human rights. Australia needs to ratify this treaty as a priority and establish the required independent mechanisms to make sure this abuse never occurs again,” said Mr de Kretser.

A submission from the HRLC earlier this year highlighted the importance of Australia ratifying OPCAT for the protection of children.

“Many of the current mechanisms that exist in Australia for oversight of places of detention are not independent from government and don’t have sufficient powers. It is imperative that independent and best-practice prevention mechanisms be developed to make sure we never see images like we’ve seen this week again in Australia,” said Mr de Kretser.

The High Commissioner also called on the Government to extend the scope of the upcoming Royal Commission beyond the Northern Territory.

The High Commissioner’s statement follows a week of intense local reaction to the footage aired on ABC TV’s Four Corners this Monday. Today the HRLC also expressed its dismay at the Australian Government’s lack of consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations in choosing a Commissioner and developing the terms of reference for the Royal Commission.

For all media queries, please contact:

Hugh de Kretser, Human Rights Law Centre: 0403 965 340