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UN Accuses Australia of Breaching Its International Torture Obligations


FILE - A view of United Nations headquarters from inside the General Assembly hall on Sept. 21, 2021. The U.N. is accusing Australia of breaching its human rights obligations after it suspended a tour of detention facilities.

The United Nations is accusing Australia of breaching its human rights obligations after it suspended a tour of detention facilities. U.N. inspectors say authorities in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland have denied them access into various detention facilities.

Australia ratified the United Nation's Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture in 2017.

Inspectors from the U.N. subcommittee on prevention of torture arrived in Australia last week to carry out unannounced visits to state, territory and federal prison facilities over 12 days.

In a June 2022 statement, the U.N. said the committee would visit Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador and Turkey in the second half of 2022.

The committee’s task is to “protect people deprived of liberty in…not only prisons but police stations, psychiatric institutions, closed refugee camps and immigration detention centres.”

However, authorities in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland have New South Wales corrections minister Geoff Lee told reporters Monday that people can’t just “wander through at their leisure” the state’s prisons and that the U.N. “should be off to Iran looking for human rights violations there.”

The U.N. has now said that Australia has breached its obligations under the torture protocol.

Dr. Alice Edwards, who is a U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday that Australian authorities were going against an international system of scrutiny.

“It is a disappointing outcome all round. I think, perhaps, what New South Wales in particular has failed to appreciate is that this is part of an international system," said Edwards. "It is bigger than them and I also warn states they ignore minor infractions at their peril.”

Australia's federal government has urged all state governments to comply with the U.N. inspections.

It is reported, however, that disagreements over funding between federal and state officials for independent monitoring programs that are part of the U.N.’s torture protocol could be to blame for why inspectors were denied access to some detention centers.

Campaigners have insisted that independent oversight of incarceration in Australia is essential because of the number of vulnerable detainees with a disability, mental health issues or drug problems.

The U.N. Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture is made up of independent experts.

So far in 2022, they have visited Argentina, Brazil, Lebanon, Ecuador, Turkey and Tunisia.

The U.N. inspectors have planned visits to Croatia, Madagascar, Nicaragua, and Palestine during the first half of 2023.

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