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Australia 'in breach' of human rights as UN blocked from probing prisons

Giovanni Torre -

Australia has breached its obligations under a key United Nations instrument for preventing torture and inhuman treatment or punishment, an important UN body says.

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture suspended its visit to Australia after being blocked from visiting facilities in New South Wales and Queensland.

In a statement the subcommittee said it had been obstructed from carrying out its mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Australia is a party.

In addition to being prevented from visiting several detention centres, the SPT 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.

In a statement, the SPT said despite efforts to engage with authorities, the delegation continued to be obstructed.

The SPT members said their 12-day visit, which began on October 16 and was due to run until October 27, had been compromised to such an extent they had no other option but to suspend it.

Delegation head Aisha Shujune Muhammad said it was a clear breach of Australia's obligations.

"State parties have an obligation to both receive the SPT in their territory and allow it to exercise its mandate in full," she said.

"It is deeply regrettable that the limited understanding of the SPT's mandate and the lack of co-operation stemming from internal disagreements, especially with respect to the States of Queensland and New South Wales, has compelled us to take this drastic measure.

"This is not a decision that the SPT has taken lightly."

Ms Muhammad said Australia had done little to ensure consistent implementation of OPCAT obligations across the country.

Last week the family of David Dungay Jnr, a Dunghutti man who died in Sydney's Long Bay jail in December 2015 after guards dragged him into a cell and held him face down while injecting him with a sedative, condemned the New South Wales government's obstruction of UN inspectors.

His nephew Paul Silva said the NSW Government "can't deal with scrutiny".

"They want to hide their cruelty and inhumanity from the international community and the wider public," he said.

International human rights law expert Hannah McGlade said it was concerning the committee had felt compelled to suspend the visit.

"I met with the committee in Geneva previously and encouraged this visit as the OPCAT has significant relevance to the treatment of Indigenous peoples," she said.

"This displays Australia's continued lack of compliance and indeed respect for our UN human rights law commitments. It's highly embarrassing and undermines our international claims to uphold and respect human rights.

"Aboriginal children in WA are especially vulnerable, subjected to rolling lockdowns, including now at an adult men's maximum-security prison, extensive periods of solitary confinement which is highly dangerous and also prohibited under human rights law."

Ms McGlade said the WA Supreme Court had declared this unlawful under the Youth Offenders Act.

NSW Premier Dom Perrottet said the state has a custodial inspector and an ombudsman to monitor the prison system.

"The advice I have received from Corrections here in our state is there are security and operational concerns in relation to the matter (UN visits)," he said.

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