UN examines Australia's compliance with human rights treaty
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Australia under review at UN

Remedy Australia is in Geneva attending the UN's review of Australia's compliance with the Torture Convention

Matters under review include whether Australia has implemented the UN's recommendations to remedy 3 specific complaints.

Torture Committee announces its findings

The UN Committee Against Torture concluded its review of Australia's compliance with the Convention Against Torture today, recommending, in part, that Australia:
  • end mandatory detention for asylum seekers who arrive without documentation
  • detain people only as a last resort & for as short a time possible & only when strictly necessary in individual cases
  • legislate time limits for any such detention & ensure detainees have access to the courts to review the need for their detention
  • ensure adequate physical & mental health care for all immigration detainees
  • increase efforts to prevent & investigate deaths in custody
  • ensure all refugee claims from people arriving or attempting to arrive in Australia are thoroughly examined, with real avenues of appeal, regardless of their mode & date of arrival
  • guarantee free & independent legal aid for all asylum seekers throughout the refugee determination process
  • ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture allowing independent inspection of all places of detention
Significantly, the Torture Committee reinforced last year's findings by the UN Human Rights Committee which called for the release of some 40 people detained indefinitely due to secret security assessments by ASIO.  Please join our call to have them released.

The Torture Committee has asked Australia to report back within 12 months on what it has done to comply with this particular recommendation.
Help free the ASIO detainees with this quick email to the Government
Chair of the UN Committee Against Torture, Chilean legal academic Prof Claudio Grossman (photo: Evan Schneider)

How the UN monitors compliance

The Committee Against Torture is a UN body composed of 10 experts from nations as diverse as Morocco, Nepal, Chile, China and the USA.  They each serve a term of 4 years in an independent capacity, rather than as representatives of any government.

Every country which has ratified the Torture Convention faces review by the Torture Committee every 4 years.  This month, the Committee and its support staff at the UN spent days intensively reviewing Australia’s compliance with the treaty.

The Australian Government sent a delegation of 15 to the review, including staff from DFAT, the Attorney-General’s Dept and Immigration, but no politicians or ministers attended.

A similar number of human rights defenders attended the review in person, representing 10 Australian and international NGOs, including Remedy Australia.  We reinforced a written submission to the Committee endorsed by 77 Australian civil society organisations concerned about breaches of the Torture Convention in and by Australia.

Even as it faced review by the UN Torture Committee, new allegations surfaced of Australia breaching the Torture Convention on Manus Island in PNG and Swan Island in Victoria.

Deporting people to face torture is illegal

The Convention Against Torture defines what torture is, what must be done to prevent and punish torture when it occurs, and to protect people at risk of torture.

The treaty was agreed in 1984 and Australia ratified it in 1989.  Like the 155 other countries that have ratified the Convention, Australia is legally bound to comply with its 33 provisions, which include not sending people to countries where they face torture.  To do so is called refoulement and is absolutely prohibited.
Perth Airport, 1998: Australia attempts to deport Sadiq Shek Elmi (left) to Somalia where he feared torture, defying a request from the UN Committee Against Torture (photo: Ross Swanborough)


3 men entitled to Australia’s protection

The Committee Against Torture has found 3 specific breaches of the Torture Convention by Australia.  All concern asylum seekers who fear return to places they face a real and personal risk of torture.  They are:
  • Mr Elmi, a goldsmith from Somalia (pictured above)
  • Mr Ke, a Falun Gong practitioner from China; and
  • Mr Dewage, a union organiser from Sri Lanka
These men petitioned the UN Torture Committee and in each case the Committee told Australia not to deport them because of the risk they would be tortured or face other ill treatment prohibited by the Torture Convention.

Remedy Australia continues to follow these cases and seeks to determine the fate of these 3 men.  We sent a Follow-Up Report to the Torture Committee this year and endorsed a joint civil society report to the Committee which cited our research.  Remedy Australia also attended the Committee’s review of Australia’s performance and advocated for the authors of these individual communications.

Australia must make public the fate of these men

Have they been deported?  Has Australia complied with the Torture Committee’s views?  Australia should not be allowed to make such life-and-death decisions without accountability.  Remedy Australia exists to monitor Australia's compliance in such cases.  During the review in Geneva this month, staff at the Attorney-General’s Department undertook to tell us what happened to Mr Elmi, Mr Ke and Mr Dewage.
Support other Remedy Australia campaigns here
Thank you
Nick Toonen OAM
Remedy Australia

Dr Olivia Ball
Remedy Australia