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UN anti-torture authority terminates suspended visit to Australia over restricted access to prisons

Giovanni Torre -

The United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture terminated its visit to Australia in a session on Monday, having suspended the visit in October due to non-cooperation by Australian authorities.

On 23 October last year a Subcommittee delegation was carrying out its mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), but suspended the visit after being blocked from visiting facilities in New South Wales and Queensland.

In a statement at the time the subcommittee said it had been obstructed from carrying out its mandate under the Optional Protocol, to which Australia is a party.

In addition to being prevented from visiting several detention centres, the delegation also experienced difficulties in carrying out a full visit at other locations, and was not given all the relevant information and documentation it had requested.

Since then, the Subcommittee requested a number of assurances from Australian authorities in order to resume its visit. On Monday the Subcommittee revealed some of the requested guarantees were not provided, and that it "could not ascertain that it would be able to resume its visit in a reasonable timeframe".

Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture chairperson Suzanne Jabbour said: "Despite the good cooperation the Subcommittee has with the Australian Federal Authorities following our initial mission, there is no alternative but to terminate the visit as the issue of unrestricted access to all places of deprivation of liberty in two states has not yet been resolved."

"Nevertheless, a report based on what the SPT observed during its October visit before the suspension will be shared with the State party as soon as possible. It will enable ongoing communication with the Australian Government," she said.

In the same session the Subcommittee confirmed it will visit South Africa, Kazakhstan and Madagascar in the first half of this year, as well as Croatia, Georgia, Guatemala, State of Palestine, and the Philippines during the second half of 2023.

Amnesty International Australia urged all Australian jurisdictions to provide "full, unimpeded access" to places of detention to meet the obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture to prevent inhumane treatment of children, refugees and people seeking asylum in detention in Australia.

Amnesty Strategic Campaigner Ry Atkinson noted that Australia is now "an outlier internationally" as one of only two countries the SPT has made the decision to terminate a visit to inspect places of detention under the protocol, the other being Rwanda.

"This protocol exists to prevent torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, and it is an international embarrassment that Australia has failed to cooperate to fulfil our obligations under this global agreement we have entered into," he said.

"When the UN torture watchdog is prevented from visiting places of detention by uncooperative state governments, it raises serious concerns about the potential for Australia to be engaging in practices amounting to torture.

"In Australia, First Nations people continue to die in custody, the treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum continues to harm their physical and mental health, detainees of youth detention report experiences of abuse, and First Nations children as young as 10 continue to be locked up."

Amnesty International Australia urged the SPT during its visit last October to inspect some of the most problematic places of detention including Perth Immigration Detention Centre, Banksia Hill Youth Detention Centre, Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

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