Human rights advocate shocked by treatment of youth
29 Jul 2016,
A high profile human rights barrister visiting Tasmania has slammed the NT government’s decision to counter-sue two youths ‘tortured’ by prison guards at the Don Dale Detention Centre.
Speaking in Launceston, Melbourne lawyer Julian Burnside said the decision to seek damages was “disgraceful”.
“It’s insane,” Mr Burnside said.
“You take defenceless children and mistreat them so grotesquely and then say we’ll sue you for damaging our property, I mean for god’s sake.”
Footage released earlier this week revealed a 17-year-old boy at the juvenile detention centre strapped to a mechanical restraint chair.
The teenager was also shown being thrown across his cell, kneed and knocked to the ground, repeatedly stripped naked and kept in solitary confinement.
The teenager was among six boys tear-gassed at the institution in August 2014.
The NT government claims two of the six youths made an attempted escape from the facility in 2015, causing hundreds of thousands of dollar in damage.
Mr Burnside said it wasn’t a question of legality but morality.
“Yes they would have a legal action for damage to their property, but only an idiot would advise them to take action,” he said.
“You don’t treat children like that.
“I mean how can something like that even happen in our country, they’re just making future criminals.”
Also a strong refugee advocate, Mr Burnside said the situation in the Northern Territory was not dissimilar to that of the national debate around asylum seekers.
You take defenceless children and mistreat them so grotesquely and then say we’ll sue you for damaging our property, I mean for god’s sake.- Julian Burnside, human rights advocate
“The whole country is appalled by the Don Dale incident, because it all happened below the radar,” he said.
“Most Australians have views which are fairly decent, but the facts are hidden from them and once they discover the facts, then they start to care.
“It’s really very similar to the refugee situation because most Australians would be horrified if they knew what we were doing to other human beings in detention.”
He said by labelling ‘boat people’ as illegal, the government had wrongly convinced Australians they were being protected from criminals.
Speaking at the Tamar Valley Peace Festival on Friday, Mr Burnside said he had one key message.
“We are decent people but we have been misled into behaving badly,” he said