NFPs Welcome Ratification of Convention Against Torture Protocol
10 February 2017 at 1:17 pm
The not-for-profit sector has welcomed the federal government’s move to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) describing the move as a positive and historic step in the campaign to end torture.
The Attorney-General Senator George Brandis announced on Thursday that the government would ratify the OPCAT which is designed to “strengthen the protection of persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
Law Council of Australia President Fiona McLeod said the council had long pressed for ratification, arguing that OPCAT would assist in preventing torture from occurring in any place of detention in Australia, as well as encouraging a culture of transparency and accountability.
“Ratification will build upon Australia’s history as a nation determined to eradicate and prevent torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at home and abroad,” McLeod said.
“It will enhance the protection of the fundamental rights of people in detention in Australia and improve conditions in detention facilities where required. Independent and regular external scrutiny will provide an incentive for those running detention facilities to develop effective prevention strategies.
“Ratification of OPCAT provides an opportunity for Commonwealth, state and territory governments to work together to address long standing human rights concerns relating to the treatment of Indigenous Australians in custody, and conditions in youth and immigration detention facilities. Our concerns regarding the over representation of Indigenous people in jails and lock ups across Australia are well known.”
Internationally the OPCAT has been in force for over five years with 17 countries listed as signatories.
McLeod also said the federal government’s announcement was timely, with Australia campaigning for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2018 to 2020.
International children’s agency UNICEF Australia also welcomed the move to ratify OPCAT.
“Detention settings are punitive and create conditions that increase the risk of abuse, especially for children, who are particularly vulnerable. Liberty is a fundamental human right and depriving children of their liberty carries serious responsibilities,” UNICEF Australia’s director of policy, Nicole Breeze, said.
“Recent events at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and similar reports involving other youth detention centres across Australia indicate that children have been subjected to extended periods of isolation and mechanical restraints. This is unacceptable and demonstrates a real need for improved practices through monitoring and accountability.
“The federal government’s commitment to ratify OPCAT is a significant and positive development. Preventative monitoring will ensure better protection for children who are held in places of detention. This development enhances Australia’s commitment to the UN Convention Against Torture which binds Australia to treat people humanely under international law.”
Breeze said the OPCAT requires the Australian government to establish a national preventative mechanism to monitor places of detention in Australia, as well as all relevant offshore locations such as immigration detention facilities or sites used for military purposes.
“UNICEF Australia understands the Commonwealth Ombudsman will perform this role,” she said.
“The ratification of OPCAT will reinforce the important work of the National Children’s Commissioner, the Australian Human Rights Commission and others who have worked for ratification for some years. It also signals a commitment by the federal government and others to prevent abuse in detention facilities. UNICEF Australia looks forward to seeing increased protections for people in detention, including children.’’
Brandis said on Thursday that the government intended to ratify the OPCAT by December 2017, following consultation with the states and territories on our proposed model for ratification and implementation.
“This will be an important reaffirmation of Australia’s deep commitment to preventing torture and other mistreatment in our places of detention,” Brandis said.
“OPCAT creates obligations regarding oversight of places of detention. These are intended to assist states to better protect people in detention from torture and mistreatment. The aim is not to shame; it is not to engage in an act of moral vanity. It is to cooperate in a mutual endeavour to bring about a tangible improvement to the treatment of people in detention.
“Ratification of OPCAT will see Australia establish and maintain what is known as a National Preventive Mechanism to prevent torture and mistreatment. In implementing OPCAT, our focus will be on what might be termed ‘primary’ places of detention, such as prisons, juvenile detention, police cells and immigration facilities. Any environment in which the state deprives a person of his or her liberty poses unique challenges; such challenges are perhaps at their most acute in such places.”
He said recent events had reminded Australia of the human, financial and other costs of mistreatment in detention.
“The government is of the view that ratification and effective implementation of OPCAT will encourage continuous improvement to inspection and conditions of detention.”