Australia has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture – eight years after signing the treaty which paved the way to independent inspections of all places of detention in Australia.
Under the Opcat, Australia will be obliged to establish an independent watchdog, known as a national preventive mechanism, which will have standing powers to conduct regular and random inspections of prisons, immigration detention centres, juvenile detention centres and held psychiatric facilities, Guardian reported.
Australian places of detention will also be subject to international inspections by the UN subcommittee on the prevention of torture.
But the watchdog will not have the right to inspect offshore places of detention run by Australia.
The government committed to ratifying Opcat as part of its successful campaign for a seat on the UN’s human rights council.
In a statement, the attorney general, George Brandis and foreign minister Julie Bishop, said the government was committed to ensuring implementation was practical and effective.
“Ratification is not the end, but the beginning of an ongoing discussion about oversight and monitoring,” it said. “Ratifying Opcat demonstrates Australia’s unwavering commitment to international scrutiny and accountability, as Australia prepares to take its seat on the Human Rights Council for the 2018–20 term.”
The Human Rights Law Centre said ratification of Opcat was an important step towards transparency because successive Australian governments had maintained an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to places of detention for too long.
But Daniel Webb, the HRLC’s director of legal advocacy, said the Australian government could not just pick and choose which facilities it was happy to have scrutinised, and to shield offshore detention from inspection.
“The whole purpose of this treaty is to prevent abuse through transparency. It defeats that purpose if our government can just decide to keep its deepest darkest sites of misery and suffering deliberately shielded from scrutiny,” Webb said.