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23 Oct, 2022 13:29

Australia stonewalls torture prevention inspection – UN

Local authorities compromised a visit to detention facilities to the extent that it had to be called off, a watchdog said
Australia stonewalls torture prevention inspection – UN

The United Nations torture prevention body has suspended its tour of Australian detention facilities, citing local authorities’ efforts to put roadblocks in its way, according to a statement released on Sunday.

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) noted that its delegation “has been prevented from visiting several places where people are detained” while lamenting “difficulties in carrying out a full visit at other locations.” Inspectors were not given all the information and documentation they had requested, the organization stated.

The SPT went on to accuse Australia of a “clear breach” of its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), adding that the inspection, which kicked off on October 16 and was supposed to run until October 27, was “compromised to such an extent that they had no other option but to suspend it”.

Initially, the SPT sought to assess situation on the ground and “examine the existing protection measures against torture" and other cruel treatment.

The UN body stopped the inspection after earlier this week its delegation was denied entry to a facility in the city of Queanbeyan in the state of New South Wales, eastern Australia.

According to local media reports, Queensland, another Australian state, also blocked visits to mental health facilities, citing local health legislation.

Explaining the decision to prevent UN inspectors from examining the Queanbeyan facility, Geoff Lee, New South Wales Minister for Corrections, argued that “the whole role of our jail system is to keep people safe” and protect them from criminals. “It’s not to allow people just to wander through at their leisure,” he added.

The official stance sparked a backlash from former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who urged local authorities to “think carefully about the international company they are keeping” by blocking access to UN inspectors.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which has been ratified by 91 nations including Australia, obliges its members to allow SPT unannounced and unhindered visits to “all places where persons are deprived of their liberty” as well as to talk privately to them without witnesses.