Legal bodies across Australia have welcomed the good news.The Australian government announced that it will ratify the optional protocol of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).
The government also stated that it will invite outside scrutiny of the practices and conditions in its prisons and detention facilities.
Last week, during a forum hosted in Canberra, Attorney-General George Brandis QC revealed the government’s plans to ratify the optional protocol.
Senator Brandis said that the Australian government will focus in ‘primary’ places of detention, including immigration facilities, police cells, juvenile detention, and prisons.
He added that they will also focus on any environment or facility that one gets denied their freedom by the state. He said that different people are faced with unique challenges; hence it is not good for the state to deny them their liberty.
“I believe that effective implementation of the OPCAT will improve conditions of detention facilities and also promote the ongoing inspections of the facilities,” said the Attorney-General.
He went on to suggest that endorsing the protocol would ensure Australia translated human rights into personal respect for all the people in detention. The A-G said this while addressing an audience at the DFATNGO Forum on Human Rights.
Senator Brandis said that the government should ensure that human rights are not mere cries into the void, not merely fine sentiments, but are considered accordingly by giving respect to everyone’s dignity.
However, “this can only happen when the Australian government pays close attention to the particular correctional facilities in which individuals find themselves,” said Senator Brandis.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) responded to the announcement saying it was a good idea but ‘it took long’. The group outlined some of the recent incidents where people were denied their fundamental rights. For example, the treatment of Victorian children in maximum-security adult prisons and the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre are evidence that Australia needs a greater oversight in the detention sector.
“Australia has repeatedly failed to take on its responsibility in taking care of those detained in offshore detention,” said ALHR president Benedict Coyne.
Mr. Coyne said that it will be easy to identify and prevent human right violations because there will be more accountability and transparency in places of detention.
“We will get significant assistance in preventing human rights violations, thanks to the monitoring process that the Australian government will implement within the detention facilities in Australia and some that are out of Australia for which the government is responsible.
In order to effectively prevent the mistreatment and torture of detainees, the government’s implementation will cover the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism,” said the Attorney General.
The A-G said that the National Preventive Mechanism will include inspection of correctional facilities and giving advice to the relevant authorities on the requirements of the UN OPTCAT subcommittee.
Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Fiona McLeod SC congratulated the Australian government for taking such a brave step towards ensuring that there will be more accountability and transparency within Australia’s detention facilities.
“The people running detention facilities can now develop effective prevention strategies, thanks to the regular and independent external scrutiny,” said Ms. McLeod.