Graphic footage aired on the ABC’s Four Corners Program has shed light on the brutal mistreatment of young boys in the juvenile justice system between 2010 and 2015. Detainees as young as thirteen were repeatedly stripped naked, thrown against walls, kneed and knocked to the ground, forcefully restrained, placed in solitary confinement for extended periods and sprayed with tear gas in a confined space. This constitutes to torture and is a blatant violation of Australia’s obligations under OPCAT.
This endemic violence occurs when vulnerable people are kept in secret places where no one is watching. It constitutes a breach of Australia’s international obligations under OPCAT that should be rectified.
At the Human Rights Commission Seminar on the adoption of the OPCAT treaty on 25 November 2009, Justice Action represented the detainees and proposed a number of recommendations on the issue, with which the world-leading expert on torture Silvia Casale agreed. The adoption of the recommendations would have prevented the atrocities that have occurred in Northern Territory.
Following media coverage and public outcry against this incident, the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister Adam Giles removed and replaced the Northern Territory’s Minister for Corrections John Elferink. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a Royal Commission into the acts of abuse in Darwin’s Don Dale Detention Centre.
Turnbull’s commission was initially criticised due to its limited scope (to the NT, Don Dale in particular) and the appointment of former Northern Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Brian Martin to head of the inquiry. However, Brian Martin resigned as head of the commission just 4 days after his appointment leading to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda and Justice Margaret White being appointed as co-commissioners.