Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The mother of David Dungay Jnr, who died in custody in 2015, is taking her son’s case to the United Nations on a mission for accountability from the Federal and New South Wales Governments.
Leetona Dungay, a Dunghutti woman from Kempsey, NSW, announced on Thursday she will be making a complaint to the UN regarding the failure of both the NSW and Federal Governments to protect her son’s life, and for their continued failure to take action towards ending the increasing rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples dying in custody.
Dungay Jnr passed away at Long Bay Prison in Sydney four days after Christmas in 2015.
Dungay Jnr lived with diabetes and was eating a biscuit before prison guards entered his cell, forcibly removed him to an observation cell, restrained him and sedated him.
Before passing he said the words, “I can’t breathe” 12 times.
Her youngest son, Leetona Dungay has been fighting for justice since his death. She is making a complaint to the UN on the basis that both governments failed to protect her son’s right to life and right to an effective remedy.
“My son had a right to live,” Dungay said, fronting media on Thursday at NSW Parliament House.
“He had the right to be safe from harm. And I have the right to demand accountability and justice for what happened to David.”
“The government and the prison had a duty of care to keep David safe, with people who were trained properly to keep him alive. The system failed, and David lost his life because of that failure.”
Dungay is also complaining about systemic failures of successive Australian Governments and institutions to fully implement the 339 recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the systemic failures of the Australian legal system which deny families accountability, and the violations of international human rights law which has increased the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander deaths in custody.
Dungay has requested that the UN Human Rights Committee declare the circumstances of her son’s death and the failure to undertake investigations into anyone or any organisation responsible for his death are both violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
She has also asked the committee to find that the Australian State and its institutions should investigate and on that basis of evidence, prosecute anyone or any organisation responsible for First Nations deaths in custody.
“I want the world to know that Australia is failing to protect the rights of Indigenous people.”
“The UN needs to know that there is a crisis in this country, and that Australia is breaching its commitments to the UN to protect the human rights of all of its citizens, regardless of their race,” she said.
Dungay’s complaint has been prepared with the support of human rights lawyers Geoffrey Robertson AO QC and Jennifer Robinson; Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research Director and legal academic Larissa Behrendt AO FASSA; Jumbunna Institute Deputy-Director Craig Longman; and National Justice Project chief executive and Principal Solicitor George Newhouse.
“We hope that this complaint will shine a global spotlight on the incarceration crisis facing First Nations people in Australia,” said Behrendt.
“We know that there are at least 473 other First Nations families who have not been able to secure justice for the death of a loved one since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”
“This complaint sends a clear message to Australian governments and institutions that the cycle of impunity, inaction and deaths must end. The international community must stand with Leetona Dungay and all families of victims when they say to the Australian government: Black Lives Matter.”
Newhouse said Dungay “should not have to go all the way to Geneva to seek justice for the death of her son” but that she has been left with no other choice.
“This government has repeatedly refused to take steps to get the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and SafeWork NSW to investigate the death,” he said.
By Rachael Knowles