Human Rigths: UN torture prevention body suspends visit to Australia citing lack of co-operation

Geneva / Canberra,  24 October 2022.- The United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has decided to suspend its visit to Australia due to obstructions it encountered in carrying out its mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), to which Australia is a party.

The SPT delegation has been prevented from visiting several places where people are detained, experienced difficulties in carrying out a full visit at other locations, and was not given all the relevant information and documentation it had requested.

Despite its continued efforts to engage the authorities for the resolution of the problems, the SPT continued to be obstructed in the exercise of its mandate. As a result of this, the SPT members felt that their 12-day visit, which began on 16 October and was due to run until 27 October, had been compromised to such an extent that they had no other option but to suspend it.

“This is a clear breach by Australia of its obligations under OPCAT. State parties have an obligation to both receive the SPT in their territory and allow it to exercise its mandate in full, as reflected in Articles 12 and 14,” said Aisha Shujune Muhammad, the head of the four-member delegation.

“It is deeply regrettable that the limited understanding of the SPT’s mandate and the lack of co-operation stemming from internal disagreements, especially with respect to the States of Queensland and New South Wales, has compelled us to take this drastic measure,” said Muhammad. “This is not a decision that the SPT has taken lightly.”

Muhammad added: “Given that OPCAT applies to all federal states without limitations or exceptions, it is concerning that four years after it ratified the Optional Protocol, Australia appears to have done little to ensure consistent implementation of OPCAT obligations across the country, including but not limited to passing overarching legislation to translate its international obligations into domestic law.”

The work of the SPT is guided by the principles of confidentiality, cooperation, impartiality, and universality. This is the basis on which States parties agree to grant SPT unfettered access to places of deprivation of liberty, and to documentation and persons in such facilities.

“The SPT is neither an oversight body, nor does it carry out investigations or inspections. It is a mechanism that makes confidential recommendations to State Parties on establishing effective safeguards against the risk of torture and ill-treatment in places of deprivation of liberty. Despite our numerous efforts to explain our preventive mandate, this was clearly not understood,” the head of delegation concluded.

The SPT expects Australia to abide by its international obligations under OPCAT and provide appropriate assurances to satisfy the SPT that no further obstacles will be encountered in fulfilling its mandate so that the visit may be resumed in due course.

The SPT delegation to Australia comprises: Ms. Aisha Shujune Muhammad (Head of Delegation, Maldives), Mr. Jakub Julian Czepek (Poland), Ms. Marija Definis (Croatia), Mr. Nika Kvaratskhelia (Georgia).

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