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UN torture prevention body blasts Australia for lack of co-operation

Australian officials have been accused of obstructing an official visit by a United Nations body that works to prevent torture.

Representatives from a UN body that makes recommendations to prevent the use of torture says they were denied access to some Australian facilities during an official visit.
Photo: 123rf

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) said it had suspended a 12-day visit by its delegation half-way through the schedule due to a lack of co-operation by Australian officials.

The subcommittee said it had a mandate to visit places of detention under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), to which Australia is a party.

But it said its delegation was blocked from visiting several such places, experienced difficulties in carrying out full visits at others, and was not given all the relevant information and documents requested.

SPT delegation head Aisha Shujune Muhammad said: “Despite … continued efforts to engage the authorities for the resolution of the problems, the SPT continued to be obstructed in the exercise of its mandate.

“As a result of this, the SPT members felt that their 12-day visit … had been compromised to such an extent that they had no other option but to suspend it.

“This is a clear breach by Australia of its obligations under OPCAT.”

Australian parties had shown a “limited understanding of the SPT’s mandate”, and some of the lack of c-ooperation came down to internal disagreements, particularly when it came to the states of Queensland and New South Wales, Muhammad said.

“Given that OPCAT applies to all federal states without limitations or exceptions, it is concerning that four years after it ratified the Optional Protocol, Australia appears to have done little to ensure consistent implementation of OPCAT obligations across the country, including but not limited to passing overarching legislation to translate its international obligations into domestic law, “she said.

“The SPT is neither an oversight body, nor does it carry out investigations or inspections. It is a mechanism that makes confidential recommendations to state parties on establishing effective safeguards against the risk of torture and ill-treatment in places of deprivation of liberty. Despite our numerous efforts to explain our preventive mandate, this was clearly not understood, “Muhammad said.

She said she hoped the SPT could organize another visit in the future if full co-operation was promised.

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