NSWCCL Statement: UN torture prevention body terminates visit to Australia

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has been forced to terminate its suspended visit to Australia signalling to the international community that Australia is shamefully failing in its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Torture (OPCAT).  The NSW Council for Civil Liberties call on all Australian governments to prioritise the implementation of the OPCAT and to meet our obligations to the people held in detention.

In compliance with obligations under the OPCAT, Australia must execute two simple functions for the establishment of the principles of the OPCAT into law. First, to set up, designate and maintain a network of Commonwealth, state and territory inspectorates (each referred to as NPM Bodies) responsible for inspecting and making recommendations about places of detention within their jurisdiction. Second, to facilitate visits to Australia, including to places of detention under Australia's jurisdiction and control, by the SPT. NSW has yet to nominate an NPM Coordinator or implement the OPCAT into law.

When Australia signed OPCAT in 2017, it committed to full implementation of the treaty by 20 January 2022 which was subsequently extended to January 2023.

We call on all Australian government’s, particularly the NSW State Government to commit to full implementation and take tangible, transparent steps to ensure that there is a NPM in NSW that works effectively and efficiently to ensure inspections can take place.

The Australian Human Rights Commission released a Road Map to OPCAT Compliance last October that sets out key recommendations to help guide the implementation of OPCAT. Adopting the five recommendations in the road map would be a good place to start.

Australia’s mandatory immigration detention of asylum seekers is a gross breach of human rights and decency. It is also a clear breach of Australia’s international obligations. With no independent review of the conditions of detention facilities, asylum seekers are vulnerable to abuse and medical neglect with limited scrutiny.

Additionally, the gross over-incarceration of First Nations people in Australia in a national disgrace. The CAT recognises the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family and the inherent foundation of freedom, justice and peace. Accordingly, NSWCCL submits that the SPT must review the gross rates of over-incarceration of First Nations people in Australia. As the Uluru Statement from The Heart declares, First Nations people “are not an innately criminal people”, yet First Nations peoples are incarcerated, policed and criminalised at a significantly higher rate than non-First Nations peoples.

The Subcommittee came to its decision to terminate its visit to Australia after it became increasingly difficult for them to carry out its mandate under the OPCAT. The Subcommittee requested a number of assurances from the Australian government in order to resume its visit, to no avail, allowing Subcommittee to conclude it would not be able to resume its visit within a reasonable timeframe. 

Australia, we can and must do better.