AUSTRALIA: Guantanamo-style abuse of child prisoners shows current detention system has failed

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3 Aug 2016
[International Secretariat]

Chilling footage showing detained Indigenous children being tear gassed and a child being hooded and strapped to a restraint chair in Australia’s Northern Territory must serve as a wakeup call for the government on the need to urgently change its policies on juvenile detention, Amnesty International said today.

“We are calling for an immediate prohibition on the use of restraint chairs and hooding for law enforcement and in the prison system, as part of a complete overhaul of Australia’s juvenile detention system,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Senior Research Adviser for South East Asia and the Pacific.

On Monday 26 July ABC’s Four Corners Program screened footage of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, Northern Territory which showed prison officials abusing detained teenage boys from 2010 to 2015.

“The image of a distressed child being forcibly stripped by three men, and the sound of guards laughing while children choke on teargas, should be ingrained on the minds of Australia’s leaders, who for years have ignored calls for better protection of children’s human rights in detention facilities in Northern Territory and across the country.”

There is no evidence that the use of restraint chairs is more effective as a means of law enforcement than safer alternatives.

The film also shows prison officials misusing tear gas by pumping it into a confined isolation unit where five boys were locked in their cells with limited ventilation and no exit, increasing the risk of physical injury, suffocation and even death.

Horrendous abuse

Amnesty International Australia has repeatedly raised concerns about tear gassing and other abuses in Northern Territory youth detention centres, and in the past five years has also responded to similar serious allegations in two other states.

Amnesty International, along with others, has for years been calling on Australia to ensure that youth detention centres are being independently inspected by ratifying the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Ratification would mean the establishment of a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), an independent national body which would have unlimited access to all places of detention.

“Only after it ratifies OPCAT can the Australian Government, and all states and territories in its jurisdiction, be held to account for the mistreatment of people in detention facilities. This alarming new footage proves that Australia cannot delay any longer – children are suffering horrendous abuse,” said Champa Patel.


The ABC footage has also highlighted, once again, the shameful rate of Indigenous incarceration in Australia. In 2013–2014, Indigenous young people were 26 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous young people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people make up just over five per cent of the Australian population of 10 to 17-year-olds, but more than half (59 per cent) of those in detention.

“By failing to tackle entrenched racism against Indigenous people and huge inequalities in health, education and housing, the Australian government has allowed this culture of abuse to flourish,” said Champa Patel.

28 July 2016

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