Liberty Victoria Comment on OPCAT Suspension

Liberty Victoria is dismayed to learn that government obstruction has led the United Nations’ torture prevention body to suspend its visit to Australia.

The risk to the human rights of people held in places of detention is significant, and it is fundamentally important that those rights are protected. Such places go beyond prisons or police cells. They include youth justice centres, immigration detention centres, and locked aged care facilities, secure disability homes and hospital wards. Liberty Victoria considers it essential that light is shone in such places.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), signed and ratified by Australia, seeks to prevent the mistreatment of people in all forms of detention. Under OPCAT, all Australian governments — federal, state and territory — have an obligation to allow the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to conduct inspections of any place of detention for compliance with OPCAT. Recommendations by the SPT are confidential.

In recent weeks, the SPT delegation was prevented from visiting several places where people are detained. Liberty Victoria is particularly concerned to learn that the New South Wales government refused inspectors entry into any facilities in the state, and the Queensland government blocked access to mental health wards.[1] Obstruction of its mandate led the SPT to suspend its visit.

SPT visits have a vital role in protecting the human rights of people who are held outside of public view. Liberty Victoria condemns the obstruction of the work of the SPT, which aims to proactively prevent torture and ill treatment of people who are detained.

Australia purports to be a leader on respecting and protecting human rights. Such leadership, however, requires all governments to co-operate with the important work of international bodies that audit our human rights compliance. Liberty Victoria calls on all Australian governments to comply fully with the work of OPCAT and the SPT, and to eliminate mistreatment from any place of detention where it may be found.