26 September 2023

Ombudsmen let down by Governments

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The ACT Ombudsman has joined with the ACT Human Rights Commission and the ACT Inspector of Correction Services to express their combined 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 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 during its visit.

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, ACT Ombudsman Iain Anderson, Human Rights Commission Helen Watchirs and Inspector of Correctional Services, Neil McAllister 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, Commissioner Watchirs and Mr McAllister said.

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

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

The ACT representatives 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 NPM members said.

Mr Anderson, Commissioner Watchirs and Mr McAllister said Australia now joined Rwanda as the only other country in the world where the SPT had decided to terminate a visit.

They 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.

Mr Anderson also signed the joint statement in his role as Commonwealth Ombudsman, along with representatives from 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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