human rights news & views

Australia violates rights of indigenous boy

With the Australian media seized with a sudden interest in the complex social problems of some Aboriginal communities, politicians seeking solutions without consultation and the Prime Minister, John Howard, advocating a ‘law and order’ response, we see once again the impact of the law on indigenous youth: this time recognised at the highest international level as human rights abuses. Corey Brough, an Aboriginal boy with a mild intellectual disability and, ironically, the same surname as the Minister for conducting-Indigenous-Affairs-by-talking-only-to-white-people, Mal Brough, has been found by the UN Human Rights Committee to have suffered multiple violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

After taking part in a riot at his juvenile detention centre in 1999, 16 year-old Corey was transferred to an adult prison, given anti-psychotic drugs against his will, forcibly stripped of his clothing, deprived of any bedding, and kept in solitary confinement and under continuous artificial lighting for up to three days at a time. Under such circumstances it’s a wonder the boy lasted eight days before attempting to harm himself.  Corey was then sentenced to further solitary confinement for resisting attempts to remove a noose he’d made from his underwear.  This, in spite of a Royal Commission finding that segregation, isolation and restriction of movement within a prison have a particuarly harmful effect on indigenous Australians.

The UN Committee found that Corey's treatment at Parklea Correctional Centre in NSW "was not commensurate with his status as a juvenile person in a particularly vulnerable position because of his disability and his status as an Aboriginal."  It found violations of the inalienable right of all prisoners to be treated with humanity and dignity and of juvenile prisoners to be housed separately from adults (ICCPR, Article 10).  Australia has been 'ordered' by the Committee to compensate Corey for these abuses and to ensure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

This is precisely why Australia, no less than any other country, ought to ratify and implement the 2002 Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, so that all places of detention can be monitored by independent experts.  It’s lucky for Australia's governments that the international declarations concerning the rights of people with disabilities and indigenous peoples are still at the draft stage.  Or would they even care?

Corey Brough, now 24, is currently in prison, along with far too many of his fellow indigenous Australians.  At the time of the Parklea abuses, indigenous youth were 15.5 times more likely to be in detention than non-indigenous juveniles.  Overall rates of indigenous incarceration have increased by 8% each year since the damning report of the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Commission was tabled in 1991.  The Australian Government is required to respond to the UN Human Rights Committee's findings by 26 July 2006.


  1. 5 July 2006 | 10:28 am

    Isolation and seperation from community is such a damaging thing for Indigneous people that I have known men from the community I work in to commit a crime and be sent to jail in order to keep a family member company!

  2. 16 August 2011 | 9:32 pm

    […] Rather, RightsBase tends to focus on human rights developments that don't get the attention they deserve — such as that first post of 21 May 2006 which drew attention to the UN Human Rights Committee's condemnation of the abusive treatment of Australian teenager Corey Brough. […]

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