Australia facing questions at the UN about ‘horrific’ issues and ‘significant concerns’

Home Politics Australia facing questions at the UN about ‘horrific’ issues and ‘significant concerns’
Australia facing questions at the UN about ‘horrific’ issues and ‘significant concerns’

In the same week ABC’s Four Corners revealed allegations of abuse inside a West Australian youth detention facility, the United Nations has been grilling Australia over its treatment of people in detention.

The UN Committee Against Torture holds regular hearings to assess whether countries are meeting their obligations under the Convention Against Torture. This is Australia’s sixth review.

However, this hearing came following the UN accusing Australia of breaching its human rights obligations, after UN inspectors cancelled a tour of detention facilities due to a lack of cooperation.

The government also faced tough questions on youth and immigration detention, Indigenous incarceration and Aboriginal deaths in custody. 

And the committee also criticised the continued use of some restraint practices, like spit hoods.

“We want to know how this issue is being handled,” committee member Ilvija Pūce said.

“Using spit hoods can amount to ill treatment and they have fostered the worsening of a person’s physical health and even death.”

Latoya Rule knows the devastating consequences of spit hoods.

At a bus stop, a woman holds a sign with Wayne's picture stating he died after 6 days on remand.
Wayne “Fella” Morrison’s family want spit hoods banned around Australia.(Supplied: Latoya Rule)

Their brother, Wayne “Fella” Morrison — a Wiradjuri, Kookatha and Wirangu man — died in 2016 after being restrained at the wrists and ankles, placed in a spit hood and carried, face down, chest down into a prison transport van.

The inquest into his death is still pending.

South Australia has since criminalised the use of spit hoods, but other states and territories are yet to follow suit.

That’s why Latoya Rule has been campaigning for a national ban on spit hoods.

“Spit hoods have been recognised as Guantanamo Bay-type inventions. And that place … is the pinnacle of torture,” they said.

“Doing away with spit hoods is actually about human rights.”

Australia ‘not taking steps’ to fix issues

Latoya Rule is one of dozens of advocates and human rights groups that have made submissions to the UN Committee Against Torture ahead of this week’s hearings.

Among them was the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Commissioner Lorraine Finlay gave a private briefing to the committee before the public hearings, focusing on mandatory immigration detention, offshore processing and systemic issues in the criminal justice system.

That included the “over-representation of First Nations people in detention and some really serious issues with youth detention centres”, she said.

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