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Issue #1751      October 5, 2016

Action urged to protect children

Leading Indigenous and human rights groups want the federal and Northern Territory governments to immediately protect the human rights of young people currently in detention. Their calls come as the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory prepares to hear evidence. The commission was called after an ABC TV Four Corners report on the treatment of young people in detention in the NT.

The Human Rights Law Centre, Amnesty International and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) urged both governments to be proactive and ensure children in detention are not exposed to mistreatment while awaiting the royal commission’s recommendations, expected early next year.

The three organisations have received reports that young people continue to be held in conditions amounting to solitary confinement in the high security unit of Don Dale detention centre in Darwin.

They called on the new NT government to immediately prohibit the use of solitary confinement; introduce an independent inspector of youth detention to prevent abuse; and meaningfully engage with Indigenous communities and organisations. NATSILS also called for the establishment of a special youth court in central Australia.

NATSILS executive officer Karly Warner said more than 95 percent of young people in detention in the NT are Aboriginal.

“The federal and NT governments should immediately commit to working closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to find ways to reduce the alarming rates at which Indigenous young people are locked up,” she said.

Permanent harm

Amnesty International Indigenous Rights campaigner Julian Cleary said human rights law prohibits the use of solitary confinement on children for any duration, because evidence shows that it can cause permanent psychological harm.

“The NT government should immediately commit to upholding its human rights obligations and prohibit the use of solitary confinement on children,” he said. Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy Ruth Barson said the NT has the highest rates of youth detention in Australia and that having independent oversight of youth detention facilities is critical if the government is truly committed to preventing mistreatment.

“It is essential that children in youth detention are protected from abuse,” she said. “We shouldn’t need to wait for the royal commission’s findings to ensure children are safe. Independent inspections and oversight of detention facilities are proven to work to prevent the type of appalling treatment we recently saw in the Don Dale youth-detention facility.”

The HRLC, Amnesty and NATSILS are also calling on the federal government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which Australia signed in 2009; and to properly fund Aboriginal organisations to engage with the royal commission.

“There is no reason for delaying ratification any further,” Barson said.

“The Commonwealth government has an important leadership role to play. Ratification will ensure proper and independent mechanisms are in place to prevent the mistreatment of people in detention.

“The Commonwealth government must adequately fund Aboriginal organisations to engage with the royal commission. This will ensure affected Aboriginal people, organisations, communities and children are able to have their voices heard.”

Koori Mail

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