Kaldor Centre Senior Research Fellow Madeline Gleeson addressed United Nations human rights officials overnight about the international treaty that aims to prevent the mistreatment of people deprived of their liberty in any setting, including in immigration detention centres.
Gleeson – one of only a handful of Australians invited to speak to the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) in Geneva on 8 June – focused her comments on how it defines jurisdiction, which has several different meanings under international law.
In her Kaldor Centre submission, Gleeson noted:
‘Unfortunately, there continues to be some confusion about the difference between these meanings of ‘jurisdiction’. This confusion has been particularly evident in the context of offshore processing in Australia, with the Australian government resisting advice that its human rights obligations extend to asylum seekers transferred to and detained in the Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea by reference to the sovereignty or ‘jurisdiction’ of those States.’
The Australian government has noted its concern with the Subcommittee’s view that a State has jurisdiction ‘where it exercises effective control directly or indirectly, whole or in part’, arguing that this ‘goes beyond the threshold at which a State’s human rights obligations apply extraterritorially’.
The treaty – the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, or OPCAT – recognises that people deprived of liberty may be particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. It seeks to prevent this mistreatment by establishing a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to detention sites. The SPT is a United Nations body composed of 25 independent experts from a range of national and professional backgrounds who visit States parties to OPCAT to inspect places of detention.
Australia ratified OPCAT in December 2017 but in October 2022, the SPT ended its visit to Australia’s detention facilities after New South Wales and Queensland blocked access to some facilities.
Read the text of Madeline Gleeson's brief remarks.