THIS WEEK’S HUMAN RIGHTS NEWS

By Eva Csik
Right Now Radio Logo

1 March 2012

Commonwealth Attorney-General moves to increase oversight of places of detention

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed Australia’s progress towards ratifying and implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). The Optional Protocol aims to prevent ill treatment and promote humane conditions in places of detention by establishing a system of monitoring and inspecting.

Commission President Catherine Branson QC says “Australia’s eventual ratification of OPCAT will send an important signal that the Australian Government is committed to ensuring that the human rights of people deprived of their liberty in Australia are respected.”

Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, has said that it is the interests of both individuals and the broader community if “all places of detention – whether prisons, psychiatric hospitals, police cells or disability facilities – promote rehabilitation and reintegration.” Australia signed the Optional Protocol in 2009 but the process of ratification and implementation has been slow and Mr Lynch contends that due to intolerable social and economic costs any further delay is simply not an option.

High Court dismisses challenge to terms of parole

The High Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Queensland Corrective Services Act in the case of Wotton v Queensland. The provisions of the Act allow conditions of parole to limit the right to free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press.

In this case, Lex Wotton was restricted from attending public meetings without prior approval of a community corrections officer and prohibited from having any interaction with the media. According to the High Court, the provisions of the Corrective Services Act were adequate in achieving ‘community safety and crime prevention’ and were therefore an acceptable limit on the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Stewart Levitt, Mr Wotton’s lawyer has said that the ruling still allows for avenues through which his client is able to engage with the media.

Asylum seeker dies in Villawood Detention Centre

A mental health expert has called for an inquest to be conducted into the death of an Iranian asylum seeker at the Villawood Detention Centre. It has been reported that Dr Michael Dudley, chairman of Suicide Prevention Australia, personally urged the government to release the man on medical grounds prior to his death caused by a heart attack.

Dr Dudley has stated that the man’s “vulnerability was really compounded by his detention and the strong possibility of being deported to his death, the victimisation of his family, and the suicide of other detainees at Villawood.”

Refugee Activist Ian Rintoul said the man had been in detention since April 2010. The Iranian community in Australia had been lobbying for his release from detention into the community while he awaits the outcome of a visa request, Mr Rintoul said.

Police training improved to handle contact with the mentally ill

Following an internal review that found police training increases the risk of violent confrontations, all operational police and new recruits are to receive special coaching to improve how police handle contact with the mentally ill.

Police have been forced to reconsider traditional training techniques after a steady increase in calls involving the mentally disturbed. The Age has reported that 1 in 4 cases in which police use force involves someone who is mentally ill.

Superintendent Mick Williams, the head of the Centre for Operational Safety said when police are sent to potentially violent incidents with disturbed offenders “it would be a great advantage to know the history of the people we are dealing with.” But a Health spokesperson has said that due to privacy restrictions police could only have very limited access to patient records and would be on a case-by-case basis.

Southbank high-rise for people with disabilities

A new high-rise tower  on the former site of the JH Boyd Girls High School at Southbank will give people with disabilities a chance to experience life in the city’s heart.

Many young people with disabilities are often unable to experience all that the city has to offer due to the fact that many of them are forced to live in group homes out in the suburbs and the long public transport being quite arduous at the best of times.

The high-rise will include 40 apartments and support services for people with disabilities. Dr Bronwyn Morkham, director of the Young People in Nursing Homes National Alliance said “to live right in the city centre is something that doesn’t happen to people with a disability…if they want to go out late and come back at 2am they will have the necessary support services right there in the building.

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