We express profound concern that the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has been forced to take the drastic measure of suspending its visit to Australia due to obstruction encountered while attempting to carry out its mandate during its visit to Australia under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).
We strongly condemn decisions to refuse to allow the SPT to access New South Wales detention facilities and Queensland inpatient units and to provide the SPT with requested information and documentation.
This obstruction is a clear breach by Australia of its obligations under OPCAT. States parties have an obligation to both receive the SPT in their territory and allow the committee to exercise its mandate in full, including by allowing unfettered access to places of detention.
OPCAT is designed to protect the fundamental human rights of people detained in places including, but not limited to, prisons, juvenile detention centres, immigration detention centres, hospitals, mental health facilities, aged care facilities and facilities for people with disability.
The ability to carry out unannounced visits to detention facilities, conduct private interviews with people deprived of their liberty, and review documentation is an essential element of the framework established under OPCAT.
We therefore condemn in the strongest possible terms decisions that necessarily serve to obstruct or impede the preventive mandate of the SPT which is focused on a proactive approach to preventing the torture and ill-treatment of vulnerable adults and children.
Governments that are committed to the protection and promotion of international human rights standards in places of detention have nothing to fear from the granting of SPT access to all places of detention.
Such access facilitates the delivery of confidential expert recommendations to authorities that serve to strengthen protections against torture in their jurisdictions – an outcome that governments in a developed modern democracy such as Australia should both encourage and welcome.
Given that OPCAT applies to all federal states without limitations or exceptions, it is concerning that four years after Australia ratified OPCAT so little progress has been made to ensure consistent implementation of OPCAT obligations across all states and territories.
We are deeply concerned that the approach taken in New South Wales and Queensland is a harbinger for future refusals to cooperate with regular preventive visits to places of detention by the independent National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) Australia is obliged to establish pursuant to implementing OPCAT.
Recalling that the right to be free from torture is a non-derogable norm of international law, we call the New South Wales and Queensland governments to affirm their commitment to the rules-based international legal system, reconsider their decisions to block access to places of detention, and to instead co-operate fully with the SPT.
We further call on all jurisdictions across Australia to consider the recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Road Map to OPCAT Compliance and, where they are yet to legislate, commit to the urgent introduction of overarching legislation to translate Australia’s OPCAT obligations into domestic law.
List of Signatories
Kerry Weste, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Steven Caruana, Coordinator, Australia OPCAT Network
A/Children’s Commissioner, Office of the Children’s Commissioner – Northern Territory
Sophie McNeil, Australia Researcher, Human Rights Watch
Keren Adams, Acting CEO, Human Rights Law Centre
Mat Tinkler, Group CEO, Save the Children Australia
James McDougall, Convenor, Australian Child Rights Taskforce
Sebastian Zagarella, CEO, People with Disability Australia
Cheryl Axleby, Co-Chair Change The Record
Damian Giffis, CEO, First Peoples Disability Network
Professor Melissa Castan, Director Castan Centre for Human Rights Law
Professor Dr Megan Davis, Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law, Director, Indigenous Law Centre and Professor of Law, UNSW Law & Justice
Dr Mindy Sotiri, Executive Director, Justice Reform Initiative
Jana Favero, Director – Advocacy and Campaigns, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
George Newhouse, Director, National Justice Project
Greg Barns SC, National Criminal Justice Spokesman, Australian Lawyers Alliance
Brett Collins, Coordinator, Justice Action
Debbie Kilroy OAM, Chief Executive Officer, Sisters Inside Inc.
Carolyn Frohmader, Executive Director, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)
TasOPCAT, Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, University of Tasmania
Jozefa Sobski AO, National Convenor, Women’s Electoral Lobby
Associate Professor Mary Anne Kenny, SCALES Community Legal Centre
Dr Gemma Killen, Acting CEO, ACT Council of Social Service Inc
Matilda Alexander, CEO, Queensland Advocacy for Inclusion
Josh Pallas, President, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties
Camilla Pandolfini, Principal Solicitor, Public Interest Advocacy Centre
Kate Swaffer, Human Rights Advisor, Dementia Alliance International
Greg McIntyre SC, President, International Commission of Jurists (Western Australian Branch)
Human Rights Act for New South Wales Alliance
Centre for Law and Social Justice at the University of Newcastle
Dr Shaton Shalev, SolitaryConfinement.org
Professor Justine Nolan, Australian Human Rights Institute, UNSW Sydney
Sarah Dale, Centre Director & Principal Solicitor – Refugee Advice & Casework Service
Scientia Professor Jane McAdam AO, Director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney
Madeline Gleeson, Senior Research Fellow, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney
Tabitha Lean & Debbie Kilroy, National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
Ms Wendy Prowse, CEO, Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service
Vasili Maroulis, Principal Solicitor, Marrickville Legal Service
Alison Battisson, Director Principal, Human Rights For All
Robin Banks and Michael Small, Directors, Equality Building
Jonathon Budgeon, Deputy Chair, Prisoners Legal Service Tasmania
Dulce Munoz down, National Convenor, Mums 4 Refugees
Helen Blaber, Director, Principal Solicitor. Prisoners’ Legal Service (Qld)
Paige Armstrong, Chief Executive Officer, Queenslanders with Disability Network
Professor Megan Williams, Girra Maa Indigenous Health Discipline, School of Public Health, Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney
Mary Mallett, CEO, Disability Advocacy Network Australia Ltd. (DANA)
Elizabeth Evatt AC
Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum AO former Chair of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee
Professor Edward Santow, UTS (Australian Human Rights Commissioner 2016-2021)
Professor Mary Crock, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney
Professor Larissa Behrendt, University of Technology Sydney, Director of Research and Academic Programs Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research
Professor Bronwyn Naylor, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University.
Associate Professor Hannah McGlade, Member, UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues
Professor Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law, The University of Sydney
Paul Silva, Nephew of David Dungay Jr
Latoya Aroha Rule, National Ban Spit hoods Coalition, family of Wayne Fella Morrison & Research Associate – University of Technology Sydney
Carmel Lee, Barrister, Greenway Chambers
Greg McIntyre SC, Barrister, Michael Kirby Chambers
Dr Piers Gooding, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Law School
Julian Trollor, Chair, Intellectual Disability Mental Health & Head, Department of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry, Professor and NHMRC Leadership Fellow, Discipline of Psychiatry and Mental Health, UNSW Medicine & Health
Kate Swaffer, Independent Researcher and Campaigner, Honorary Associate Fellow, Faculty of Science, Medicine & Health, University of Wollongong
Associate Professor Laura Grenfell, Law School, University of Adelaide
Lorana Bartels, Professor of Criminology, Australian National University; Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Canberra and University of Tasmania.
Prof Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Prof Penny Crofts, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Dr Elyse Methven, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Dr Linda Steele, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Dr Craig Osmond, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Ms Lisa Billington, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Ms Kate Thomas, University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law
Craig Foster, Former Socceroo
Dr Louis Schetzer, Teaching Fellow, University of New South Wales Law
Professor Simon Rice, OAM, University of Sydney Law School
Associate Professor Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle School of Law and Justice
Professor Melissa Castan, Monash University Law Faculty
Professor David Kinley, Chair of Human Rights Law, FASSA, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney
Irene Baghoomians, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney Law School
Simon Katterl, Human Rights and Mental Health Consultant
Professor Philomena Murray. Honorary Professorial Fellow. School of Social and Political Sciences. The University of Melbourne
Professor Irene Watson, Pro Vice Chancellor Aboriginal Leadership and Strategy, and Professor of Law, School of Law, University of South Australia Business School
Main image: Illustration of man in handcuffs by Cecilia Humphrey