There are a lot of things that could be done to make the world a better place. Some are decisive and involve challenging people’s points of views, but some are quite simply the right thing to do. The OPCAT is one of these things.

OPCAT stands for the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It’s a long name and let’s be honest, it’s pretty intense. However, what it involves isn’t difficult, questionable, or divisive. It’s actually just common sense.

What is the OPCAT?

OPCAT is, at a base level, about ensuring that one of our basic human rights (to be free of torture), is not being violated whilst in a place of detention. This isn’t just referring to immigration detention centres (whilst this is a key element and could have a novel dedicated to why), but any place where an individual isn’t free to leave. Including prisons, rehabilitation centres, hospitals and aged care facilities, boarding schools, group homes and the like.

It’s sad to say, but you don’t need to search very hard to hear about stories of abuse from facilities like these. It seems like every few years a Royal Commission is launched to investigate abuse within one of these facilities, but little is done to actually prevent such actions.

How does it work?

What makes the OPCAT so special, it that it’s about preventing abuse from happening in the first place. It’s completely proactive and is based on regular, independent monitoring of all places of detention through independent national and international bodies.

On a national level, the OPCAT requires the government to introduce a National Preventative Monitoring (NPM) System. In a nutshell, this system is a monitoring body that has no allegiance to the government, or the places of detention. The NPM  would go into places of detention, speak to the workers and the individuals inside, review the facility and procedures and then provide a details report on their findings. This report isn’t to name and shame, but to give productive and beneficial recommendations to ensure that the facility can improve their procedures.

These findings might be:

  • Staff training to ensure they know how to effectively de-escalate a situation without reverting to restraints.
  • The need for more medical staff so that individuals can get adequate health care.
  • Stopping the use of unnecessary restraints
  • Ensuring people could get out of the building if there was a fire.
  • They would also create a standard of treatment  for all facilities across Australia.

Implementing  their recommendations would come at a financial cost. However, $16 million in compensation has been granted to people who experience ill-treatment in immigration detention centers in the past decade. Avoiding this ill-treatment in the first place seems to be to both a morally and cost effective solution.


Why won't Australia ratify the OPCAT?

If you’ve read this far, then you likely agree that the OPCAT seems like a great idea. So why hasn’t the Australian Government ratified it? The government signed the OPCAT in 2009 and pledged that they would ratify it. However, 7 years later and nothing more has been done.

Having reached out to the current government it seems as though there is no plan in place to go further with OPCAT, believing that the reactive systems we have (such as the Ombudsman) are enough. However, this just isn’t the case.

The OPCAT is a simple way to ensure that vulnerable people are still having their basic human rights intact. And it is essential that the Australian Government ratify’s the treaty and creates a preventative monitoring system.

Resources: Australian Human Rights Commission, Consideration of Australia’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, 2012, Article 37.

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