UN torture prevention panel terminates visit to Australia

SYDNEY (Reuters): A UN torture prevention panel terminated its suspended visit to Australia, saying it continued to face obstacles in getting access to some detention centers in the country.

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) on Monday said it had requested several assurances in order to resume its visit but some guarantees were not provided, and it could not decide on a “reasonable timeframe” for a visit.

“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.

The Australian government “deeply regrets” the decision by the UN panel, a spokesperson for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in an emailed response.

“This is despite the fact that the SPT carried out successful visits to places of detention across almost all jurisdictions in Australia, and the progress made by Australia in addressing the concerns raised by the SPT,” it said.

An optional protocol against torture and degrading treatment, which Australia is a signatory to, allows for SPT to visit prisons, police stations and other detention centers unannounced.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, in October 2022 blocked the panel from visiting its prisons, saying the state maintained high standards at its jails and Australia was a sovereign country. Dreyfuss then said the decision by New South Wales was disappointing.

The UN delegation was also prevented from visiting correctional facilities in Queensland state prompting it to suspend its 12-day visit.

The offices of the premiers of New South Wales and Queensland did not immediately respond to a Reuters request seeking comment.

Jabbour said a report based on what the panel had observed during its October visit would be shared with the Australian authorities.