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Human rights legislation needed to protect the vulnerable

31-Jul-2016

Human rights legislation need to protect the vulnerable

Aimee McVeigh wrote in the Brisbane Times today that Images of young Australians being stripped and pinned to the ground, detained for days in isolation without access to fresh water or sunlight and the inexplicable use of excessive force and restraints entered our lounge rooms on Monday night via the Four Corners report of the treatment of young people at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

The treatment of young people in detention is an issue across jurisdictions in Australia. For example, in the media this week reports have been made about unnecessary violence being used against 12 year-olds in Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville.

Australians believe that they live in a country where human rights are protected. We are shocked when human rights violations are exposed and we realise that, other than in Victoria and the ACT, no legislative protection of our basic human rights exists.

Human rights should not be an abstract concept dealt with by international law. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said human rights should exist in the small places, the world of the individual person. She said that "…unless human rights have meaning there, they have little meaning elsewhere."

The images that we saw on Monday night demonstrate to Australians that human rights do not exist in the small places and in the places where they are most needed. We can see that the ability of vulnerable people to access their rights in Australia is often non-existent.

The best way to protect human rights and ensure that people are able to enforce them is through human rights legislation.

The Queensland Government is currently considering whether to introduce a Human Rights Act. Last month the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee tabled their report relating to whether Queensland needs a Human Rights Act. The report was split down party lines with non-Government Members recommending against an Act and Government Members recommending that an Act be introduced.

The treatment of young people in correctional centres is an issue that could be improved by a Human Rights Act.

In the ACT in 2007 their Human Rights Act was used to review the effect and operation of Territory laws concerning correctional facilities from the perspective of human rights. The results of this review were used to improve the treatment of prisoners in correctional centres in the ACT.

A Human Rights Act would impose a duty on public authorities (including people and companies operating correctional centres) to act consistently with the human rights contained in the Act. This means that staff at correctional centres would be required to act consistently with the right to be free from inhumane and degrading treatment – a basic human rights standard that Australians clearly believe should be protected even in a custodial context.

Brisbane Times, 31 July 2016.




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