Monday 7 August 2017

Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)

Consultations on OPCAT

The Australian Government announced in February that it intends to ratify OPCAT, working closely with the states and territories, by December 2017. The Commonwealth Attorney-General has asked the Commission to conduct consultations with civil society to provide advice back to the Australian Government on views about OPCAT implementation.  In order to do so the Commission has released a consultation paper, sought submissions and has held roundtables in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and will hold a further roundtable in Darwin. For more details see our OPCAT Consultation page.

What is OPCAT and what does it require?

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an international agreement aimed at preventing torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. OPCAT was adopted in 2002 and entered into force in 2006. OPCAT is a human rights treaty that assists in the implementation of and builds on the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and helps States meet their obligations under CAT. The key aim of OPCAT is to prevent the mistreatment of people in detention.

Under OPCAT, State Parties agree to establish an independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to conduct inspections of all places of detention and closed environments. In addition to the NPM, State Parties also agree to international inspections of places of detention by the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT). The SPT engages with states on a confidential basis and cannot publish reports and recommendations unless under agreement with the state party. Furthermore, people who provide information to the SPT may not be subject to sanctions or reprisals for having done so.

As at 26 April 2017, there are 83 State Parties to OPCAT and an additional and 16 States are signatories. 

This video created by the Association for the Prevention of Torture provides a useful overview of OPCAT.

What is the status of OPCAT in Australia?

Australia has signed and ratified CAT. CAT sets out the core obligations to prevent torture and other forms of mistreatment. On 19 May 2009, the Australian Government signed OPCAT. On 9 February 2017 the Australian Government announced its intention to ratify OPCAT by December 2017.  In signing and announcing its intention to ratify OPCAT, the Australian Government has taken a significant step towards establishing enhanced oversight of Australian places of detention, and improvement in conditions.

The Commission's work in relation to OPCAT

OPCAT assists Australia in meeting its existing international human rights obligations.

After Australia ratifies OPCAT, the Australian Government will be required to establish a national system of visits to all places of detention where people are deprived of their liberty. The Commission works to protect the human rights of immigration detainees, prisoners, and young people in the juvenile justice system.
In particular, the Commission has reported on the conditions of immigration detainees in Australia since the introduction of mandatory immigration detention in 1992. The Commission conducts regular inspections of immigration detention facilities in order to monitor whether the conditions and the treatment of immigration detainees comply with Australia’s human rights obligations.

For further information on the Commission’s work on immigration detention, click here. For more information on the work of National Children’s Commissioner in relation to youth justice click here.

The Commission’s Director of Policy and Programs, Darren Dick speaks with Mark Thomson, Secretary-General of the Association for the Prevention of Tortur about OPCAT and Australia.

Useful links

United Nations Links

Australia and OPCAT links

OPCAT and Prevention of Torture


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Webpage Last Updated August 2017