Countries Condemn Australia at UN Over Failures...
Countries condemned the Australian government over its lack of progress in reducing rates of Indigenous incarceration at the UN’s universal periodic review hearing. Sweden and Uruguay have submitted questions in advance about the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australian prisons, while Germany wants to know why Australia has delayed a push to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years. The UK has cited the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017 and asked how the Australian government planned “to work with, and listen to, Indigenous elders and leaders to provide a national voice to parliament for Indigenous people”.
The Australian government has said it has made “significant achievements in the realisation of human rights” since the previous review in 2015. The government said Covid-19 was presenting new challenges in the protection of human rights across Australia.
Some believe that Australia has failed to reduce the imprisonment of indigenous citizens and children. Simon Henderson, head of policy at Save the Children Australia, said “the federal government has failed to put in place laws to ensure immigration detention for children is a last resort.” “They have failed to implement comprehensive measures to protect the rights of children under the convention on the rights of the child. They have also failed to combat the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in Australian prisons.” He said.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Australian government should seriously address the criticisms of its human rights record and scores of recommendations raised by United Nations member countries. More than 40 nations questioned Australia’s policies toward asylum seekers and refugees, from Brazil to Germany, South Korea to the US. Among the concerns raised was Australia’s continued use of offshore processing and prolonged detention for asylum seekers.
Australia has failed to reduce the significant over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples accounted for 28% of the prisoner population in Australia, but just 3.3% of the general population.
On an average night in 2019, there were 949 children behind bars in Australia – more than half of them were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Of all 10-year-olds incarcerated, 80% were Aboriginal children.
Aboriginal kids make up only 6% of all 10- to 17-year-olds in Australia but they are 54% of the juvenile detention population.
They are jailed at 22 times the rate of non-Indigenous young people. And they are jailed younger. In 2019 nearly 65% of children under 14 in detention were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
Study after study has shown that contact with the criminal justice system at a young age can do lasting damage to children, their families and communities. The younger a child is the first time they’re sentenced, the more likely they are to reoffend violently, to continue offending and to end up in an adult prison before their 22nd birthday. According to a 2016 report by the Sentencing Advisory Council, 94% of children in detention aged 10 to 12 returned to prison before they were 18.
Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Lead, Nolan Hunter, said: “The fact that kids as young as 10 – and let’s face it the majority of these are Indigenous kids – are still being sent to jail is not only in opposition to the UN’s own recommendations, but it is just morally wrong.”
In Westerman’s home state of Western Australia, a 2018 study found that almost every child in detention was “severely impaired” in at least one brain function, be it memory, language, attention or executive function – which limited their ability to plan and understand consequences.