Northern Territory halts use of restraint chairs and spithoods after evidence of ‘torture’ of children at youth detention centre uncovered
Australian government has suspended the use of restraint chairs and spithoods in Northern Territory juvenile detention centres until the end of the upcoming royal commission.
The government is also taking steps to immediately remove detainees from the Don Dale youth correctional facility and is assessing former immigration detention centres as alternative accommodation.
The suspension comes after ABC program Four Corners aired footage of alleged abuse of teenagers in the Don Dale juvenile detention centre.
Four Corners aired footage showing teenagers being tear-gassed, physically assaulted, forcefully stripped naked, shackled and hooded in Territory prisons and youth detention centres between 2010 and 2015.
The Northern Territory’s corrections minister was sacked on Tuesday, just hours after the broadcast.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a royal commission into the NT’s youth detention regime,but the terms of reference are yet to be announced.
The NT chief minister, Adam Giles, said on Wednesday the controversial and highly criticised restraints would not be used until a “review” had taken place. On Thursday that decision was expanded, and a spokesman has confirmed to Guardian Australia that their use is now “banned”.
A report into some of the incidents by the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner in 2015 found fault with the guards’ behavior, but the findings were disputed by the then head of prisons and not acted upon, said Australian Broadcasting Corp, who aired the footage.
The case highlights concern about the disproportionate numbers of aboriginal youth in custody, with indigenous leaders calling for politicians to deal with the wider issue of the treatment of Aborigines in Australia.
Aborigines comprise just three percent of Australia’s population but make up 27 percent of those in prison and represent 94 percent of the Northern Territory’s juvenile inmates.
Australia’s roughly 700,000 indigenous citizens track near the bottom of almost every economic and social indicator for the country’s 23 million people.
Australia prison abuse could violate UN torture treaty
United Nations has also raised concerns, calling the situation quite worrisome.
The use of hoods, restraints and tear gas on Australian aboriginal children in youth detention centres by police, as shown in footage released this week, could violate the UN treaty barring torture, according to a UN official.
The mistreatment of juvenile detainees in the Northern Territory could amount to torture and is “very worrisome”, Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, said. He said he had asked the Federal Government to provide information on how the incidents will be investigated.
Mr Mendez said the PM’s move was “encouraging“, but added that he wanted to know the extent of the inquiry.
“States are responsible for violations of this sort, but if they do react properly then their international responsibility is not engaged, or at least it’s improved,” he said.