OPCAT in the context of COVID-19
Looking in on the inside: why OPCAT is needed for Australian prisons, detention centres (June 2020)
Greater oversight needed in places of detention: Senate COVID-19 Committee told (May 2020)
Human rights in Australia's places of detention, in the context of COVID-19 (May 2020)
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an instrumental international human rights treaty that supplements the 1948 United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). The United Nations (UN) officially adopted OPCAT in December 2002 and it has been in force as of June 2006. As an ancillary treaty to the CAT, OPCAT intends to strengthen the existing regime by providing the framework for the UN to monitor, inspect and report on States' observance of the CAT.
While 90 States have ratified the protocol and a further 13 have signed it as of August 2020, the treaty requires States to willingly uphold its commitments and submit themselves to scrutiny. Though Australia signed OPCAT in 2009, its potential is up to the Federal Government to enact relevant legilsation and bring it into force. In February 2017, the Federal Government announced that it intended to ratify OPCAT by the end of the same year, and as of December 2017, has achieved this goal.
The ratification of OPCAT comes at an especially critical time, following the 2016 Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory. Pre-existing domestic mechanisms for regulating and reviewing State institutions have been clearly proven ineffective at enforcing compliance. It is pertinent for the Australian Government to utilise the treaty to its full effect as part of its wider commitment to improving the domestic human rights crises in places of detainment. The Australian Human Rights Commission has identified five primary forms of detention in Australia that reviews will likely be targeted at adult imprisonment, juvenile detention, police custody, involuntary detention in a closed psychiatric institution, and detention in immigration centres.
Justice Action firmly believes that the Australian Government must engage with those who have experienced or are experiencing detention to give effect to OPCAT. It is essential for the government to consult with those whose rights they intend to protect. In response, the Australian Human Rights Commission has stated that it is eager to work with detainees and ex-detainees during a second round of consultation from late 2017-2018. While this is heartening, Justice Action continues to urge the government to centralise rather than simply acknowledge the experiences and voices of those who are the most affected and vulnerable.
In November 2009, Justice Action represented numerous young detainees who suffered brutal mistreatment at the hands of the juvenile justice system at the Human Rights Commission Seminar on the adoption of the OPCAT treaty. Justice Action contended that the treatment of the detainees (some as young as thirteen), constituted as torture and a blatant violation of Australia's obligations under OPCAT, and proposed a number of recommendations that would have likely prevented the atrocities that occured. To read more about Justice Action's involvement in the Northern Territory Juvenile Justice Exposure Case, access the link below.
Preventing abuses in detention: Steven Caruana on OPCAT - The Stinger (December, 2018)
Key case: Malcolm Baker (Justice Action, 2018)
Stopping Abuses Behind Bars: An interview with Churchill fellow Steven Caruana (September 2018)