HRW calls Indigenous deaths in Australian prisons ‘unacceptable’

Sydney, Australia, Apr 14 (EFE).- Human Rights Watch on Wednesday described the high number of deaths of Indigenous Australians in custody as “unacceptable.”

The nonprofit’s comments came on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the release of a report by a government commission on this matter.

“Three decades since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, First Nations people in Australia are still unacceptably being incarcerated and dying in prison,” Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“Given the recent spate of Indigenous deaths in custody, it’s clear that this is a national crisis,” she added.

On Apr. 15, 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody issued a total of 339 recommendations that included measures to prevent crimes, improve the treatment of this marginalized and stigmatized group by the authorities as well as reforms in the penitentiary and judicial system.

But, since then, more than 470 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody in Australia, including five in the last 30 days, from violence, suicide and a lack of prison support, among others.

HRW urged the government to implement all the recommendations, using imprisonment as a last resort, avoid putting indigenous people with disabilities in solitary confinement, and raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years, in line with many Western countries.

Indigenous Australians, who make up more than 3 percent of Australia’s population of 25 million, comprise 29 percent of the adult prison population, more than double than in 1991, when the figure was 14 percent, HRW said.

In 1991, the Royal Commission had already pointed out that indigenous Australians were more likely to die in custody due to the disproportionate incarceration rate and expressed concern about the “extreme anxiety” caused by solitary confinement.

The HRW found in a 2020 report that Indigenous prisoners with mental health conditions were at serious risk of self-harm and death.

One of the cases that the NGO cited in that report was that of Stanley, a 19-year-old Aboriginal youth with a mental health condition who was sentenced to two years in prison for theft and who took his own life on July 11, 2020 in a jail in Wooroloo in southwestern Australia.

Deaths of Australians in custody have sparked several large-scale protests involving up to 30,000 people in various parts of the country.

Australia is in a process of reconciliation for the damage perpetrated against the Indigenous people who came to the territory more than 60,000 years ago and have suffered mistreatment and systematic discrimination, as well as the appropriation of their ancestral lands, since British colonization in the 18th century.

Between the years 1910 and 1970 the White Australia policy was imposed, resulting in the removal of about 100,000 minors from their Indigenous families to be cared for by white families or institutions, now called the Stolen Generations, survivors and descendants of which still suffer deep trauma. EFE


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