Australian state premier justifies blocking U.N. team from prisons

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – The premier of Australia’s biggest state justified on Monday blocking a U.N. torture prevention panel from visiting prisons, saying the state maintained high standards at its jails and Australia was a sovereign country.

The U.N. Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) said on Sunday Australia was in “clear breach” of its obligations under a U.N. protocol on torture after New South Wales blocked it from visiting detention centres there.

State Premier Dominic Perrottet was unapologetic, telling a news conference his state had the highest standards and an independent process in place overseeing its jail system.

“We are a sovereign country in our own right and we have a high standard when it comes to correctional facilities,” he said.

“If there are complaints, if there are issues, they are dealt with appropriately … I support out independent ombudsman and correctional facilities staff in providing advice to the New South Wales government.”

The U.N. delegation, which was also blocked from visiting correctional facilities in Queensland state, on Sunday suspended its 12-day visit, which had been due to end on Thursday.

“The SPT delegation has been prevented from visiting several places where people are detained, experienced difficulties in carrying out a full visit at other locations, and was not given all the relevant information and documentation it had requested,” the panel said in a statement.

“This is a clear breach by Australia of its obligations,” it said.

Attorney General Mark Dreyfuss said it was disappointing that New South Wales had blocked the delegation’s visit.

“The decision of the SPT to cancel its visit, more than halfway through its scheduled time in Australia, is a development that could have been avoided,” he said.

The panel, in its statement, did not say if it wanted to visit the Australian prisons in response to specific issues or if its inspection was routine.

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

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Alasdair Pal, Robert Birsel)