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Australian PM calls for inquiry after video shows prison guards torturing juvenile inmates

The CCTV footage from Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, shot between 2010-2014, raised not only the issue of child abuse but the treatment of aborigines who make up 94 per cent of juvenile inmates in the territory. Photograph: (Getty)

Reuters Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Jul 26, 2016, 05.21 AM (IST)
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into the treatment of children in detention after the airing of video showing prison guards teargassing teenage inmates and strapping a half-naked, hooded-boy to a chair.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) aired CCTV footage late Monday of inmates in a Northern Territory juvenile detention centre also being stripped naked, thrown by the neck into a cell, and held for long periods in solitary confinement.

"Like all Australians, I've been deeply shocked – shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children," Turnbull said on ABC radio as he announced a Royal Commission, Australia's most powerful, state sanctioned inquiry.

"We're going to move swiftly and decisively to get to the bottom of this."


The CCTV footage from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, shot between 2010-2014, raised not only the issue of child abuse but the treatment of aborigines who make up 94 per cent of juvenile inmates in the territory. It was unclear how many of the boys in the video were indigenous.

“Our (indigenous) people have known about things like this... and to just see it laid bare in front of us last night must be a wake-up call to everyone in Australia – that something’s got to be done about the way we lock our people up in this country, and particularly the way we lock our kids up," an emotional aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda told reporters.

“What we saw last night is an absolute disgrace.”

A report into some of the incidents by the Northern Territory children's commissioner in 2015 found fault with the guards' behaviour, but the findings were disputed by the then head of prisons and not acted upon, said the ABC.

Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles sacked his corrections minister within hours of the broadcast, and said that information about the abuse had been withheld from him.

Giles said there has been a "culture of cover-up" within the corrections system. "The footage we saw last night (went) back to 2010 — and I predict this has gone on for a very long time," he said.

The video showed guards mocking inmates, carrying a boy by the neck and throwing him onto a mattress in a cell, and covering a teenager's head with a hood and shackling him to a chair with neck, arm, leg and foot restraints.

"Excessive use of force, isolation and shackling of children is barbaric and inhumane," said Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson.

The ABC reported that only two detention staff members identified in footage remained within the youth justice system.

"If one of us were to have been found to have treated our children in this way, we would probably be charged with a criminal offence and the children would be taken away from us," said Australia's Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, who backed the inquiry.

"We have been reporting on this question of indigenous incarceration, particularly of juveniles, for many, many years and we have had many, many reports... on the appalling conditions in which they are held."

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council demanded the Royal Commission include all of states and territories, as well as an examination of the over-representation of aborigines in detention. Aborigines comprise just three per cent of Australia's population but make up 27 per cent of those in prison.

(Reuters)
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