26 September 2023

Ombudsmen anger as deadline left to die

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Federal, State and Territory Governments are being invited to lift their game in the protection of fundamental human rights as a five year deadline agreed with the United Nations (UN) passes.

Members of Australia’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), which includes Commissioners and Ombudsman from across the country, have issued a joint statement urging Governments to meet their obligations under the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In signing the joint statement, ACT Ombudsman Iain Anderson and Inspector of Correctional Services, Neil McAllister said the 20th of January marked the deadline for Australia to establish its NPM across the country under OPCAT.

“Australia voluntarily agreed to meet the obligations outlined in OPCAT, and yet five years later, there is still much work that needs to be done,” Mr Anderson and Mr McAllister said.

“Progress towards designating and operationalising NPM bodies varies across different States and Territories,” they said.

“OPCAT is about protecting fundamental human rights.”

The Ombudsman and Inspector said OPCAT was designed to strengthen protections for people deprived of their liberty, because they were vulnerable to breaches of their rights including through torture or ill-treatment.

They said places of detention were any places where persons were or may be deprived of their liberty, including adult prisons, youth detention facilities, secure health facilities, police/court cells and immigration detention centres.

They said OPCAT required countries that signed up to it, which Australia did in 2017, to establish a system of regular preventive visits to places of detention by independent NPMs.

“Where they have not yet done so, we call on all Australian governments to appoint NPMs, to legislate their role and powers, and to resource them to fully discharge their mandate to carry out preventive visits to places of detention,” Mr Anderson and Mr McAllister said.

Mr Anderson also signed the joint statement in his role as Commonwealth Ombudsman, along with representatives from the ACT Human Rights Commission; SA Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People; WA Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services; NT Community Visitor Program; NT Ombudsman; Office of the NT Children’s Commission; and the Tasmanian Ombudsman.

The full joint statement can be accessed at this PS News link.

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