Activists Want The UN To Look Into Inhumane Use Of Handcuffs On Asylum Seekers

The torture watchdog will visit Australia later this year.

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The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) is urging the United Nations torture watchdog to investigate Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers seeking medical treatment.

Asylum seekers in immigration are handcuffed when seeking transfers for medical care, a practice that has been widely condemned and accused of being in breach of human rights laws. PIAC is urging the UN’s subcommittee on the prevention of torture to investigate Australia’s use of handcuffs.

“We have asked the UN subcommittee to look into this when they visit Australia in October,” PIAC principal solicitor, Camilla Pandolfini told The Guardian. “It shouldn’t take an action in the federal court to ensure people have access to basic essential treatment without the trauma and indignity of being handcuffed to receive it.”

In a statement released on Friday, PIAC alleged that the use of handcuffs has become routine practice, rather than something that is only used in extreme cases where it has been deemed necessary after a risk assessment.

“Handcuffing asylum seekers for offsite medical appointments and transfers between facilities has become routine practice, without individualised and appropriate assessment of risk. PIAC’s work with people in immigration detention shows the overuse of handcuffs is preventing people in onshore immigration detention from getting medical treatment,” a PIAC statement read.

PIAC has highlighted these concerns in a submission to the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ahead of a visit to Australia by subcommittee members in October 2022.

The investigation follows a landmark federal court case back in 2020, in which PIAC — acting on behalf of an asylum seeker — alleged that the use of handcuffs is unlawful under the Migration Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, noting that the use of handcuffs can be particularly traumatising for people who have spent years in detention.

“It’s happened to me so many times, I’ve lost count,” the asylum seeker, who went by the pseudonym ‘Yasir’ told The Guardian of the treatment back in 2020. “I have been in immigration detention for over seven years now and I worry about the threat of handcuffs every day. They never tell me why I need to be handcuffed.”

“I can never forget the things that happened to me as a child prisoner. I fled to Australia to seek protection but detention is a new nightmare when I got here. Being constantly handcuffed here is doing more and more damage to my mind.”

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture will visit Australia, as well as Bosnia, Herzegovina, Ecuador and Türkiye in late 2022 before visiting Croatia, Madagascar, Nicaragua and Palestine in early 2023.

“Visiting States parties is fundamental to exercising our mandate to protect people deprived of liberty in a variety of settings, for example, not only prisons but police stations, psychiatric institutions, closed refugee camps and immigration detention centres,” said Suzanne Jabbour, Chairperson of the subcommittee said of the visits.