UN torture body cancels visit to Australia over unrestricted access issue in ‘extraordinary step’

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A United Nations torture monitoring agency terminated its visit to Australia in what has been called a disappointing and “extraordinary step”.

The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) was due to visit in October to resume inspection of Australia’s detention facilities which was suspended last year after New South Wales and Queensland blocked access to some facilities.

On Monday, SPT, which has independent human rights experts, said it requested several assurances in order to resume its visit but it could not decide on a “reasonable timeframe” to resume its visit due to the absence of some guarantees.

“Despite the good cooperation the subcommittee has with the Australian federal authorities following our initial mission, there is no alternative but to terminate the visit as the issue of unrestricted access to all places of deprivation of liberty in two states has not yet been resolved,” SPT chairperson Suzanne Jabbour said in a statement.

Canberra became a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (Opcat), an optional protocol against torture and degrading treatment, which allows for SPT to visit prisons, police stations, and other detention centres unannounced.

The Opcat is designed to protect the rights, health, and safety of people who live in any kind of detention such as in prisons, youth detention centres, immigration detention, hospital, aged care and disability facilities.

In October 2022, New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, blocked the panel from visiting its prisons, saying the state maintained high standards at its jails and Australia was a sovereign country.

The UN delegation was also blocked from making visits to correctional facilities in Queensland state, prompting it to suspend its 12-day visit.

Responding to the UN body’s decision, the Australian Human Rights Commi...