Reproduced with the permission of Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI):

QAI formed part of the Australian NGO Delegation reporting to the 53rd session of the United Nation’s Committee Against Torture in Geneva this week, calling upon the Australian Government to take immediate steps to halt ongoing human rights abuses in Australia.  At issue was the treatment of some of Australia’s most vulnerable and marginalised people, including people with disabilities, asylum seekers, women, children and Indigenous peoples.

“Of particular concern to us is the use of Restrictive Practices on people with disabilities, which include mechanical, physical and chemical restraint, seclusion, containment and restricting access to objects,” David Manwaring, Human Rights lawyer at QAI, informed the Committee.

“In spite of previous recommendations and findings of this Committee and the Special Rapporteur, many people with disabilities continue to be routinely subjected to Restrictive Practices as a means of coercion, discipline and punishment.”

“Discrimination plays a large part in this.  Restrictive Practices constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and are often tantamount to torture within the meaning of the Convention”, Mr Manwaring submitted.

QAI also informed the Committee of concerns that the detention of people with disabilities who refuse treatment under mental health laws and sanctioning of the use of invasive and irreversible treatments such as psychosurgery, ECT and sterilisation constitute human rights violations.

Michelle O’Flynn, Director of QAI, expressed her satisfaction with the significant interest the Committee expressed in learning of Australia’s response to our obligations under the Convention since the last reporting in 2008.

“QAI has a strong commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities and to this end, we are dedicated to promoting the principles set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Ms O’Flynn said.

“Many people with disability are not in a position to advocate for themselves.  Queensland Advocacy Incorporated calls upon the Federal Government to take decisive action to stamp out these practices, which in our view amount to torture, as an urgent priority,” she said.

“Under the present state government we have recently seen a further erosion of the safeguards for people with disabilities.  Queensland is presently an outlier as regards its regulation of the use of Restrictive Practices, and people with disabilities are at the pointy end of this sword,” Ms O’Flynn said.

Recommendations made by QAI to the UN Committee include immediate ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (which Australia signed in May 2009 but has yet to ratify); drafting a human rights act; developing a national plan of positive behavioural support strategies; and developing effective mechanisms to identify and eliminate the use of Restrictive Practices.

The Australian Delegation was led by Ngila Bevan, Human Rights Advisor from People with Disability Australia (PWDA), and included representatives from QAI, Amnesty International Australia, Human Rights Law Centre, First Peoples Disability Network, Women With Disabilities Australia, Care Leavers Australia Network, Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests, Remedy Australia and the Association for the Prevention of Torture.

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