Australia attracts international spotlight as UN Report highlights high levels of deaths in custody and Indigenous incarceration.

During his visit to Australia in August last year, the Special Rapporteur Professor S. James Anaya gained an invaluable insight into the disadvantage faced by Indigenous peoples throughout the country.

This week, a Report containing his observations on the situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia has been released.

johnbedford“We welcome the observations of Professor Anaya, whose findings will ensure that the plight of our people remains prominent internationally.  Whilst the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA) is reminded on a daily basis of the injustice faced by our people, it is reassuring to know that these observations are also evident internationally” said Mr. John Bedford ALSWA Executive Officer and Acting CEO.

ALSWA, in conjunction with the National Native Title Council, hosted a series of community forums to co-incide with the Perth visit (18 August 2009), providing an invaluable opportunity for face to face communication to occur between the Special Rapporteur and Indigenous community and organisation representatives. This forum gave Prof Anaya an overview of the issues facing our people in WA and it was also here that he gained an insight into the tragic death in custody of respected Elder Mr. Ward.

Following his Australian visit, the UN independent expert noted: “Having suffered a history of oppression and racial discrimination, including dispossession of lands and social and cultural upheaval, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples endure severe disadvantage compared with non-Indigenous Australians”.

Mr. Bedford is pleased that the administration of justice was one of the key areas of disadvantage referred to by the Special Rapporteur because “… it is organisations such as ALSWA that expressed concerns about this issue”.

The UN report which is available at also highlights:

  • The high rate of deaths in custody which was “…exemplified by the disturbing case in Western Australia of the death of (Mr). Ward while being transported in police custody.” The Special Rapporteur recommends the Government take further action “to ensure the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) are being fully implemented”;
  • The Stolen Generations, land and natural resources, disadvantage and the government’s response, cross-cutting concerns regarding government programs, observations on the Northern Territory Emergency Response in Australia, and makes various conclusions and recommendations;
  • The  “alarmingly high levels of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,”  and recommends the Government “take immediate and concrete steps to address the disproportionate number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, especially juveniles and women, in custody.”

The Special Rapporteur recommended that additional funds “should be immediately provided to community-controlled legal services to achieve, at minimum, parity with mainstream legal aid services. In particular, culturally- appropriate legal services should be available to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including those living in remote areas, and interpreters should be guaranteed in criminal proceedings and, where necessary for a fair hearing, in civil matters.”

Mr. Bedford welcomed these comments.  “We have been advocating for a more equitable justice system for our people for many years, and our increasing workload continues despite receiving absolutely no financial assistance from the WA State Government” said Mr. Bedford.