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Amnesty International urge greater scrutiny after another Indigenous death in custody

Giovanni Torre -

Amnesty International Australia has expressed sorrow and anger following the death of a 41-year old Indigenous man remanded in custody in Hakea Prison, Western Australia.

Amnesty noted that coming "just weeks" after Indigenous teenager Cleveland Dodd died by suicide inside Casuarina Prison's Unit 18 juvenile wing, "the fact that yet another Indigenous life has been lost is outrageous and unacceptable, and highlights a system that is fundamentally broken".

The WA Department of Justice said early on Wednesday morning that preliminary reports suggest the man suffered a "medical episode".

Amnesty International Australia's Indigenous Rights Advisor, Palawa Elder Uncle Rodney Dillon, said on Wednesday there needs to be a higher level of scrutiny and culpability when it comes to Indigenous deaths in custody.

"Each case should be investigated independently by a criminal investigator, and not rely on a government coroner. Our mob are dying inside these prisons. No one has been found responsible, and there are no recommendations coming from the coroner that are stopping deaths in custody," he said.

Amnesty International Australia's Community Engagement Associate Campaigner, Rachael McPhail, said it was "heartbreaking to hear that there has been yet another Indigenous death in custody, less than three weeks after the last tragedy in a WA prison".

"These are preventable deaths that are caused by systemic racism, unconscious bias and a justice system that is heavily stacked against First Nations Peoples. I urge the Western Australian government to appoint an independent body to investigate the circumstances of this death in custody, as per the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody," she said.

Amnesty International Australia has repeatedly called for the prevention of Indigenous deaths in custody, by urging governments to implement the 339 recommendations made by the 1991 Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody.

In 2017, Australia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), established to ensure governments were protecting the rights, health and safety of people in any kind of detention facility, including prisons, youth detention centres, immigration detention, hospital, aged care and disability facilities.

In 2021, 30 countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council publicly condemned the Australian government for the grave human rights violations being committed in its detention and prison facilities.

In January 2023, OPCAT was forced to cancel its planned visit to inspect Australia's detention and prison facilities, as the Australian government failed to meet its deadline in implementing its commitments to the OPCAT convention.

Amnesty International has also repeatedly called for an end to the use of solitary confinement and has urged the government to implement the Royal Commission's recommendations that tackle the root causes of imprisonment, by focusing on diverting people away from prisons and removing hanging points from prisons.

More to come.

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