Australia must take action to improve its compliance with Convention Against Torture and Ill-Treatment, says UN Committee

Australia must take action to improve its compliance with Convention Against Torture and Ill-Treatment, says UN Committee

29 November 2014

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has overnight condemned Australia’s asylum seeker policies and expressed serious concerns at the rates of violence against women and indigenous imprisonment.

The expert Committee has completed its review of Australia under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and released its findings in Geneva.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, who was in Geneva for the review and briefed the Committee along with other NGO representatives and Government officials, said while the Committee’s findings recognised some positive developments they also raise serious concerns about Australia’s performance in several key areas.

“On some issues Australia’s form is good. On others, like violence against women and indigenous overimprisonment, there’s clearly work to be done. And then on asylum seekers, Australia is acting in absolute defiance of international law and is being condemned on the world stage for doing so,” said Mr Webb.

The Committee’s findings are particularly critical of the Government’s practice of boat turnbacks and also the Migration and Maritime Powers Bill, which effectively licenses the Government to return asylum seekers to harm in breach of international law.

“The prohibition on torture is absolute. Australia can’t torture people, nor can we send them back to a place where they’re in danger of being tortured by others. The UN Committee’s findings make it clear that intercepting and returning asylum seekers without fairly and thoroughly assessing their refugee claims is fundamentally incompatible with this vitally important obligation,” said Mr Webb.

The Committee also issued a call for Australia to take urgent action to reduce the alarming rates of violence against women, recognising the well-established legal principle that Australia has a duty to actively protect people from having their rights violated by others.

“Violence against women is occurring in extremely troubling proportions in Australia. The Committee has called on the Government to do more to prevent, investigate, punish and redress  such violence – an important call to action on this serious and pressing human rights issue,” said Mr Webb.

The Committee also calls on the Government to do more to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in Australia’s prisons and to reduce prison overcrowding.

“Indigenous peoples are imprisoned at 15 times the rate of non-indigenous Australians and are one of the most incarcerated groups in the world. The UN has called on Australia to do more to address root causes of Indigenous disadvantage rather than opting for ‘tough on crime’ quick fixes and also to ensure that Aboriginal legal services are properly funded,” said Mr Webb.

Mr Webb said it was important the Australian Government worked in good faith towards implementing the UN Committee’s findings.

“Australia signed up to this important treaty almost 30 years ago. We clearly have work to do to improve our compliance with its terms. The Committee has made some key recommendations as to what Australia needs to do. The Government should now go about implementing them,” said Mr Webb.

The Australian Government is required to report back to the Committee on the steps taken to implement its recommendations by 28 November 2015.

A copy of the Committee’s findings can be found here:

For further information or comments contact:
Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy, on 0437 278 961 or