What is OPCAT?
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) is an international agreement that helps countries meet their obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
OPCAT aims to prevent cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment within closed environments such as prisons, immigration detention centres, police detention facilities, psychiatric wards and care facilities.
OPCAT was adopted in 2002 and entered into force in 2006. As at 30 June 2018, there are 88 State Parties;to OPCAT and an additional 14 States are signatories.
Australia’s ratification and implementation of OPCATThe Australian government ratified OPCAT on 21 December 2017. By ratifying OPCAT Australia has signalled to the world that it will comply with the Treaty. Australia has agreed to:
- set up an independent body or bodies – a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) – to access all places of detention in all states and territories
- international inspections of places of detention by the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture.
At the time of ratification, Australia invoked Article 24 of OPCAT, which allows for a three-year period to introduce measures to fully implement the treaty. Australia may seek an extra two years’ extension of this deadline.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has been appointed as National NPM Co-ordinator, responsible for coordination and capacity building among all federal, state and territory bodies that fulfil the NPM function. The Commonwealth Ombudsman has also been appointed as the NPM body for Commonwealth primary places of detention, including onshore immigration detention facilities, federal police cells and Defence detention facilities. This role formally begins on 1 July 2018.
Each Australian jurisdiction is responsible for determining which body or bodies will undertake the NPM function in respect of its own places of detention. The Australian Government is currently working with states and territories on the details of OPCAT implementation, including through the Council of Attorneys-General.