Originally posted 25 November 2022; updated 1 June 2023
Submission: Australia’s obligation to investigate crimes of torture
In November 2022, ACIJ made a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concerning the duty to investigate crimes of torture in national law and practice. ACIJ’s submission raised issues of concern arising from our practice to date, including the Australian Federal Police’s mishandling of the case of former Sri Lankan General, Jagath Jayasuriya.
Our submission noted institutional shortcomings in Australia’s capacity to investigate torture and other international crimes and recommended the establishment of a permanent, specialised unit dedicated to the investigation of core international crimes.
On the issue of rights and remedies for victims and survivors, our submission highlighted the absence of a national compensation scheme for victims of torture and other Commonwealth crimes. It also noted that the Australian government has yet to establish a redress process for victims of crimes by members of Australian military forces in Afghanistan, despite a clear recommendation following the Afghanistan Inquiry that compensation should be paid swiftly.
On 16 February 2023, the Special Rapporteur released her Report as part of the 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Committee. The Report, titled A/HRC/52/30: Good practices in national criminalization, investigation, prosecution and sentencing for offences of torture, made a number of recommendations to enhance the ability of States to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Noting that the ‘scale and extent of crimes of torture being perpetrated by public officials in countries, places and contexts worldwide far outstrip the capacity of international courts and tribunals to respond’, the Special Rapporteur called on Governments to establish national investigation bodies to take action against torture. The Report specifically referenced ACIJ’s submissions, at page 16, in relation to Australia’s history of setting up specialised units to pursue alleged Nazi war criminals in the 1980s, and to investigate potential war crimes in Afghanistan by Australian Special Forces in 2020.
On 14 March 2023, the Special Rapporteur delivered her Report during the 52nd Session of the UN Human Rights Committee. States had the opportunity to participate in an Interactive Dialogue responding to the Report. Ms Amanda Gorely, on behalf of Australia, welcomed the Report’s focus on the duty to investigate at the national level, and supported the Special Rapporteur’s call for measures to enable victim participation, protection and empowerment.
Australia should move beyond these supportive statements, and make a real difference to the investigation and prosecution of torture and other international crimes, by establishing a permanent, specialist unit dedicated to the investigation of these crimes.
Image credit: Barry Tuck via Shutterstock