Hundreds of Australians protested Saturday against the maltreatment of minors in detention centers, less than a week after a shocking video emerged showing the abuse of aboriginal children in a prison in the Northern Territory.
Some 700 demonstrators filled the streets in Sydney to denounce the way Australian jailors treat young people in the detention centers, including hooding and physical restraint of teenagers, amid widespread criticism of the newly-surfaced case in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
Similar protests were also staged in Melbourne and elsewhere, as hundreds of people, most of them aboriginal, convened to call for justice for the teens.
The footage, released by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on July 25, and shot between 2010 and 2014, showed guards beating six aboriginal teenage prisoners, using tear gas against them, throwing them into cells by the neck, covering their heads with hoods and strapping them naked or half-naked to special chairs.
The shocking revelation prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on July 26 to order a Royal Commission, the most powerful inquiry in the country, to launch a thorough investigation into the mistreatment of children in detention.
Australia’s Northern Territory also suspended the use of hood restraints on children two days after the video was released.
“If we could see some action, some real fair and just action taken, I think that would allay some concern,” Sydney community elder Aunty Jenny Munro told the ABC on Saturday.
On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) issued a statement expressing shock at the abuse of minors in the Australian prison, calling on the “authorities to identify those who committed abuses against the children and to hold them responsible for such acts... Compensation should also be provided.”
The UNHRC urged the Australian government to ratify the Optional Protocol to Convention Against Torture, which would allow independent investigators to regularly inspect the country’s detention facilities.
The UNHRC statement came a day after UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez said what had been done against the teenage detainees in the video could amount to torture.Although Canberra promised to thoroughly investigate the case, the aboriginal community is still reluctant, calling for a much broader and deeper investigation.
Warren Mundine, an Australian Aboriginal leader, has already said the crime rate within the community of the native Australians has to also be investigated.
“If you’re just looking at abuses in the system, you’re not going to resolve the bigger issue. We need to deal with crime rates within indigenous communities… You just can’t do one without the other,” said Mundine, who also heads the prime minister’s indigenous advisory council, on Wednesday.
Save the Children has also said the investigation needs to be Australia-wide, and not just limited to the Northern Territory.
Of Australia’s 24 million people, some 700,000 are aborigines, who rank near the bottom of almost every economic and social indicator. Aborigines also make up the majority of the Northern Territory’s population as well as about 95 percent of its minor detainees.