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Despite ratifying the Convention against Torture in 1989, Australia has still many shortcomings regarding respect for international human rights standards, especially the protection of rights and safeguards in detention and of indigenous peoples. In October 2022, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) suspended its visit to the country due to obstructions it encountered in carrying out its mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to which Australia is a party since 2017.
For a State with sufficient resources, Australia’s lack of safeguards and accountability for indigenous people in detention centres is harrowing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are disproportionately affected by imprisonment in Australia and offshore detention centres, especially on Christmas Island, an Australian territory south of Indonesia. They represent 30% of prisoners, despite making up only 3.8% of the total population. The law does not establish a maximum period for detention for reasons of migration, which leads to prolonged periods of deprivation of liberty. Stateless persons whose asylum claims have been rejected can be detained indefinitely. Twenty-six Indigenous people have died in custody between July 2020 and June 2021, bringing the total number of deaths in detention to at least 500. Australia has failed to protect the rights of First Nations.
Australia’s minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old. The treatment of children and young people in youth justice centres is dire. 2022 media coverage and alternative CSOs submissions to the UN Committee against Torture recount incidents of grave concern, including reports of children subjected to extended periods in solitary confinement or confined to cells 23 hours a day, as well as incidents of physical and sexual abuse.