64 bodies urge ratifying of OPCAT

From across the spectrum, more than 60 organisations are urging AG George Brandis to ratify – bring into law – the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

64 bodies urge ratifying of OPCAT

barsSixty-four Australian organisations have asked the Australian Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, and the state and territory AGs to ratify – bring formally into Australian law – the Convention Against Torture.

Australia has signed the protocol, but has not yet incorporated its provisions into local law, a development which will give its clauses full effect here. Because the states and territories have clear responsibilities under the convention, such as for ensuring rights and liberties are upheld in prisons and juvenile detention centres, they have to each pass “mirror” legislation to a new federal law. Negotiations for complete ratifying of the convention started five years ago. They need unstalling: hence the initiative, led by Amnesty, of the 64 groups.

Here is the letter.

15 September 2014

Senator the Hon George Brandis QC

Attorney-General

PO Box 6100

Senate, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Attorney,

 Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

 We, the undersigned organisations, are writing to urge the Australian Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) and implement a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) without delay.

We welcomed Australia’s signing of OPCAT in 2009. Now in ratifying OPCAT the Australian Government will demonstrate, nationally and internationally, its commitment to safeguarding the human rights of people deprived of their liberty in all places of detention, including prisons, police lock ups, juvenile detention centres, immigration detention centres, mental health facilities and forensic disability units.

The aim of OPCAT is to strengthen the protection of persons deprived of their liberty through non-judicial means of a preventative nature. We strongly support this goal and believe that independent monitoring by autonomous bodies under OPCAT will serve to strengthen a culture of human rights within Australian detention facilities.

Since Australia signed OPCAT in 2009, a National Interest Analysis has been conducted and in 2012 the bipartisan Joint Standing Committee on Treaties completed an inquiry into Australia’s ratification of OPCAT. We strongly support the recommendation of the Committee that the Australian Government work in collaboration with the States and Territories to ratify OPCAT and implement a NPM as soon as possible.

In supporting the recommendation of the Committee, we point to the importance of the accountability mechanism provided by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT).   The Committee identified that the SPT has proven to be a valuable and successful mechanism in exercising oversight and providing support for State Parties as they implement OPCAT.

Ratification of OPCAT would provide the opportunity for the SPT to lend its expertise to Federal, State and Territory jurisdictions in aligning existing mechanisms to meet the requirements of OPCAT, particularly the establishment and implementation of a NPM. Australian jurisdictions have monitoring bodies already in existence and ratification of OPCAT would allow cooperation with the SPT to modify these institutions under guidance to form a NPM.

The Australian Government has stated its intention to postpone the implementation of a NPM. We do not support this intention as delayed implementation of a NPM would render Australia’s ratification of OPCAT symbolic rather than effective, potentially compromising Australia’s stated commitment to human rights.

In light of the consultative processes already undertaken by the Australian Government and the initiation of a collaborative approach between the Federal, State and Territory Governments to reform existing inspection bodies, there exist no reasonable obstacles to Australia’s immediate ratification of OPCAT and the implementation of a NPM.

OPCAT, the SPT and the NPM bodies safeguard the human rights of people in custodial settings and provide independent oversight of places of detention. The transparency and accountability offered by OPCAT and its mechanisms provide Australia with the opportunity to act as regional and global model for best practice on human rights in places of detention.

In the lead up to Australia’s review before the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva in 2014, we call on the Australian Federal, State and Territory Governments to commit to ratifying OPCAT in full and implementing a NPM without delay.

Yours sincerely,

 

The undersigned organisations

  • Act for Peace
  • ActionAid
  • Afghan Australian Development Organisation
  • Amnesty International
  • ANTaR
  • Association for the Prevention of Torture
  • Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors
  • Asylum Seekers Centre
  • Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
  • Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce
  • Australian Council for International Development (representing over 140 member organisations)
  • Australian Lawyers Alliance
  • Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Australian Tamil Congress
  • Castan Centre for Human Rights Law
  • Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Children with Disability Australia
  • ChilOut
  • Civil Liberties Australia
  • Companion House Assisting Survivors of Torture and Trauma
  • Consumers Health Forum of Australia
  • Disability Discrimination Legal Service
  • Domestic Violence Legal Workers’ Network
  • Edmund Rice Centre
  • Equality Rights Alliance (representing 62 member organisations)
  • Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria
  • Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma
  • Foundation House
  • Human Rights Law Centre
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Hunter Community Legal Centre
  • Islamic Relief Australia
  • Jesuit Refugee Service
  • Kingsford Legal Centre
  • Mahboba’s Promise
  • Medical Association for Prevention of War
  • Melaleuca Refugee Centre Torture and Trauma Survivors Service of the Northern Territory Inc
  • Mental Health Carers ARAFMI Australia
  • National Association of Community Legal Centres
  • National Child Rights Taskforce
  • National Children’s and Youth Law Centre
  • National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
  • Oxfam Australia
  • People with Disability Australia
  • Phoenix Centre Support Service for Survivors of Torture and Trauma
  • Public Health Association of Australia
  • Public Interest Advocacy Centre Ltd
  • Queensland Advocacy Incorporated
  • Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma
  • Refugee Council of Australia
  • Save the Children
  • SCALES Community Legal Centre
  • Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors
  • Settlement Council of Australia
  • Sisters Inside
  • Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service Inc
  • TEAR Australia
  • UN Association of Australia
  • Uniting Church in Australia Assembly
  • Women’s Electoral Lobby
  • Women’s Law Centre
  • Women’s Legal Services Australia
  • Women with Disabilities Australia
  • YWCA Australia

Copy to:

  • Mr Simon Corbell MP, ACT Attorney-General
  • Hon Bradley Hazzard MP, NSW Attorney-General
  • Hon John Elferink MLA, NT Attorney-General
  • Hon Jarrod Bleijie MP, QLD Attorney-General
  • Hon John Rau MP, SA Attorney-General
  • Hon Dr Vanessa Goodwin MLC, TAS Attorney-General
  • Hon Robert Clark MP, VIC Attorney-General
  • Hon Michael Mischin MLC, WA Attorney-General
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