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OPCAT – Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture

Latest News

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Australian Human Rights Commission Report: Implementing OPCAT in Australia (June 2020)
 

OPCAT in the Context of COVID-19
Looking in on the Inside: Why OPCAT is Needed for Australian Prisons, Detention Centres (June 2020)
Greater Oversight Needed in Places of Detention: Senate COVID-19 Committee Told (May 2020)
Human Rights in Australia’s Places of Detention, in the Context of COVID-19 (May 2020) 

Overview

Justice Action strives to protect, uphold, and improve the rights of detainees. In our mission to represent those locked in Australian prisons and hospitals, we work to advocate for an effective implementation of the United Nations’ Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (OPCAT). The Australian Government ratified OPCAT following revelations of human rights abuse in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory and the subsequent Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory.

Our Involvement

In 2009, Justice Action represented various young detainees who had been victims of mistreatment in juvenile detention at the Human Rights Commission Seminar on the adoption of the OPCAT treaty. At the Seminar, Justice Action argued that the treatment of these young detainees constituted torture and as such voilated Australia’s commitment to OPCAT. That same year, Justice Action also represented all Australians held against their will at the 2009 Consultation for the UN Optional Protocol against Torture (OPCAT) Treaty. In 2013, Justice Action was invited to participate in a nation-wide Roundtable of NGOs discussing OPCAT and the effect of its ratification on the treatment of Australians who are institutionalised. In response, the Australian Human Rights Commission has stated that it is eager to work with detainees and ex-detainees during a second round of consultation from late 2017-2018. Justice Action continues to urge the government to centralise the voices of those who are most affected by detention, rather than simply acknowledging the importance of lived experience. 

Justice Action is pursuing a position in the OPCAT Advisory Group as a representative of those with lived experiences of detention. Justice Action has been a participant and representative of detainees in OPCAT forums for numerous years and, at present, there is no representative of detainee voices in the Advisory Group. We at Justice Action have recently met with the Ombudsman to discuss OPCAT’s current operation in Australia and express our intention to become involved in the Group.  In collaboration with the Ombudsman and members of the Advisory Group, Justice Action has discussed that the routine and random strip searching of women and the use of solitary confinement is a breach of the standards outlined by OPCAT. Justice Action is in the process of compiling a comprehensive report on the strip searching of women to develop a set of recommendations to better uphold Australia’s commitment to OPCAT. 

Independent organisations like Justice Action who work as a voice for detainee interests are a vital part of keeping NPMs transparent and allowing for the non-partisan coordination of information to assist NPMs. Article 1 of OPCAT outlines the intention to establish an oversight mechanism to prevent mistreatment. This is further exemplified in Article 19(a), an operational provision that states the intention ‘to strengthen, if necessary, their protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Currently, these mechanisms only focus on the response to individual complaints and do not engage in consistent inspections to prevent mistreatment. Moreover, the lack of preventive measures highlights an inadequacy in the current complaints system. 

Related Issues

Strip Search

The widespread use of strip searches should be opposed. The current practice of strip searches is demeaning, removes a person’s dignity and is ineffective. The invasive and degrading nature of such searches are indeed in breach of OPCAT.

Related Resources

2018
Preventing abuses in detention: Steven Caruana on OPCAT – The Stinger (December, 2018)
Key case: Malcolm Baker (Justice Action, 2018)
Stopping Abuses Behind Bars: An interview with Churchill fellow Steven Caruana (September 2018)

2017
Australia Ratifies Major Anti-Torture Treaty OPCAT – Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC, December 2017)

2016
Injustice in Northern Territory juvenile detention

2009
Justice Action’s proposed recommendations at the 2009 OPCAT Seminar (November 2009)

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