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Thursday, 5 April 1984
Page: 1323


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(5.10) —I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate on behalf of the Government because it is I believe an important one. The Government very much welcomes the report of Amnesty International and the campaign against torture and has no quarrel at all with the general terms of Senator Missen's motion. The facts documented by Amnesty unequivocally demonstrate that it is vitally important to raise international awareness of the scope and gravity of torture. It is very disquieting to note, as did Senator Missen and Senator Coleman, that Amnesty names 98 countries in all in its report. The report gives detailed consideration of 66 of these in its global survey of countries which countenance torture and ill-treatment of prisoners.

Australia has been consistently active in international efforts to bring an end to torture. We have, for example, made a significant contribution to the Working Group of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which has been drafting an international convention against torture. That Commission adopted a draft text of the convention at its last session. This draft, with some few articles remaining to be agreed, will now be considered by the next session of the UN General Assembly. The principal remaining obstacle to agreement is the question of whether the implementation provisions of the convention should be mandatory or optional. Australia firmly favours the former option and the Government will be redoubling its efforts to see an effective convention with mandatory implementation provisions adopted at the Thirty-Ninth UN General Assembly.

Australia has also expressed strong support for the UN's standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners and the draft body of principles for the protection of all persons under any form of detention or imprisonment being negotiated within the United Nations General Assembly. Respect for the principles embodied in these instruments and other due process safeguards found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would have a major impact in reducing the incidence of torture. Australia has made representations on a bilateral basis in a number of countries where allegations of torture have been made. We shall continue to pursue our concerns about torture with individual countries as appropriate opportunities arise.

The Government does not underestimate the difficulties involved in taking effective action against torture. As Amnesty points out, the evidence of torture reflects not only in discipline and cruelty at grass roots administrative levels , but also in many instances conscious, calculated government policy to deal with dissent. An important beginning is to bring the problem to light, a task in which Amnesty has succeeded admirably. Another key step is to strengthen respect for internationally recognised safeguards for prisoners, including rights of access to lawyers and family as embodied in instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners. The present administrators, the police and the military, require proper training and effective supervision.

While the emphasis should, of course, be on preventive action, the Government is also aware of the need for assistance for those who have suffered torture. The Government has therefore decided to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture next financial year, and the amount of that contribution will, I imagine, be announced in the Budget context. The fund is used to finance valuable work on the rehabilitation of torture victims whose long term suffering is often forgotten. The Government wishes Amnesty's campaign against torture every success. The Government values greatly the efforts of responsible non-government organisations, such as Amnesty, to protect and promote internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.