26 September 2023

Ombudsmen find Governments a let down

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Ombudsmen and Commissioners from across the country have come together to express their disappointment with Federal, State and Territory Governments for not meeting their commitments in the protection of fundamental human rights.

In a joint statement issued by members of Australia’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) which includes Commissioners and Ombudsmen from across the country, the group expressed its regret that the United Nations (UN) Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) chose to terminate its visit to Australia because it was denied access to some places of detention.

When Australia signed onto the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2017, it agreed to allow the SPT to visit places of detention around the country.

In signing the joint statement, Commonwealth Ombudsman Iain Anderson said the SPT’s first visit to Australia was scheduled for 16 – 27 October 2022.

“We regret that the SPT was denied access to some places of detention during its visit, which resulted in the SPT suspending its visit on 23 October,” Mr Anderson said.

“The plenary of the SPT met from 6 to 10 February 2023,” he said.

“The SPT decided to terminate its visit to Australia.”

Mr Anderson said this was because Australia was unable to provide the assurances that would enable the SPT to resume its visit within a reasonable timeframe, “notably, assurances that the SPT would be able to carry out its visits to Australian detention facilities without restriction”.

“This is a disappointing outcome.”

The Ombudsman said Australia now joined Rwanda as the only other country in the world where the SPT had decided to terminate a visit.

He said this marked the loss of a valuable opportunity to work cooperatively with the SPT to progress the shared goal of protecting the human rights of people in detention.

In addition to Mr Anderson, the joint statement was signed by representatives from the South Australian Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People; Western Australian Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services; Northern Territory Community Visitor Program; Northern Territory Ombudsman; Office of the NT Children’s Commission; the Tasmanian Ombudsman; Australian Capital Territory’s Human Rights Commission; ACT Inspector of Correctional Services; and ACT Ombudsman.

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

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