OPCAT – Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture

Latest News

UN Inspection Blocked – Nov 2022
International Torture Inspection Ignores Detainees – Oct 2022
Implementation of OPCAT in Australia – Oct 2022
SPT Visit to Australia – Aug 2022
Medication of People with Disability: Breach of OPCAT
Prisoner Community Acknowledgement
State-Sanctioned Sexual Assault: The Rally to Ban Strip Searches at Silverwater Gaol
Detainee Call: Advisory Group Position
Analysis: OPCAT Progress in South Australian Prisons
Australian Human Rights Commission Report: Implementing OPCAT in Australia – Jun 2020

OPCAT in the Context of COVID-19

Looking in on the Inside: Why OPCAT is Needed for Australian Prisons, Detention Centres – Jun 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


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). 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. 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. Torture considered article.

Our Involvement

Independent organisations like Justice Action work as a voice for detainee interests and are a vital part of keeping National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) transparent and enable non-partisan coordination of information to assist NPMs. Justice Action intends to engage and work with NPMs of each state as they are nominated.

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 young detainees constituted torture and therefore violated 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.

Justice Action has been a participant and representative of detainees in OPCAT forums for numerous years. 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. 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. Here is Justice Action’s report analysing Australia’s implementation of OPCAT: Australia’s Implementation of OPCAT in 2020.pdf. In response, the Australian Human Rights Commission has stated that it is eager to work with detainees and ex-detainees during the second round of consultation from late 2017-2018. 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 OPCAT Advisory Group as the first representative of those with lived experiences of detention. In collaboration with the Ombudsman and members of the Advisory Group, Justice Action has discussed the breach of the standards outlined by OPCAT due to the use of solitary confinement and routine and random strip-searching of women. Justice Action has compiled comprehensive reports on Solitary Confinement and Strip-Searching of Women in Prison to develop a set of recommendations to better uphold Australia’s commitment to OPCAT. 

Further, Justice Action’s involvement extends to the context of proposed breaches of OPCAT for the forced medication of people with disability as a standard form of mental health intervention, accessed through the publication, Forced Medication of People with Disability: Breach of OPCAT. Undermining the entitlement to personal autonomy, a mental health diagnosis is not grounds to justify the use of forced medication yet instances of such violations to mental and physical integrity are continuously permitted by current Australian legislation. Supported by OPCAT’s monitoring mechanisms, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) prohibits the forced institutionalisation and medication of persons with disabilities. The publication, observing the enactment status of UNCRPD principles by Member States, proposes a reconsideration of domestic legislation to better strengthen Australia’s compliance with international law obligations through a rights-based approach. Access the full article for further information here. The limits of the law on forced medication are analysed by Justice Action’s report here whilst greater detail on Justice Action’s treatment alternatives may be accessed here.

Related Issues

Detainee representation and participation in OPCAT

Solitary confinement 

Forced Medication

Strip Searches

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

Related Resources

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)

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

Injustice in Northern Territory juvenile detention

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

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