Australia: Alarming conditions in-country and in offshore detention centres

During its 75th session, on 15 and 16 November 2022, the CAT considered Australia's sixth periodic report. The country rapporteurs were Ms. Ilvija Puce and Mr. Erdogan Iscan.

The country delegation was led by Simon Newnham, Deputy Secretary, Integrity and International Group, Australian Attorney-General’s Department.

The review took place less than a month after the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) had decided to suspend its visit to Australia as it faced obstructions in carrying out its mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), to which Australia is a party. Several places of detention could not be visited by the SPT, and relevant information and documentation were not provided by the authorities upon request.

Main issues discussed:

The Committee was concerned that detention remains compulsory under the migration law for all non-authorised arrivals in Australia, including children. The law does not establish a maximum time period for detention for reasons of migration, leading to protracted periods of deprivation of liberty. Stateless persons whose asylum claims have been rejected can be detained indefinitely.

The Committee experts expressed their concerns about the alarming material conditions of in-country and offshore detention centres, particularly on Christmas Island, an Australian territory south of Indonesia. They were concerned about the lack of access to social, educational and health services in the migration detention centres as well as the high rate of mental problems among migrants, refugees and asylum seekers held in those centres. Furthermore, the Committee addressed reports on the use of excessive force and physical restraint by the guards committed with impunity.

Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by imprisonment in Australia. They represent 30% of the detention population, whereas they make up only 3.8 % of the total population. The Committee asked about the causes of the high rates of indigenous persons in prison.

Another concern discussed was the low age of criminal responsibility in Australia, which is established by law at 10 years of age. In addition, according to reports, children deprived of liberty are subjected to verbal abuse, racist comments, and isolation.

Please find the Recommendation adopted by the CAT on Australia during the 75th session here.

Follow-up recommendations

The State party should provide by 25 November 2023 information on the implementation of the recommendations related to:

  • Mandatory immigration detention, including of children
  • Conditions of detention
  • Juvenile justice

Watch here Part One and here Part Two of the dialogue with the Committee.