AUSTRALIA – “The image you have just seen isn’t from Guantanamo bay or Abu Ghraib, but Australia in 2015. A boy, hooded, shackled, strapped to a chair and left alone. It is barbaric. This is juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, a system that punishes troubled children instead of rehabilitating them – where children as young as 10 are locked up and 13-year-olds are kept in solitary confinement. Most of the images secured by Four Corners in this investigation have never been seen publicly. They are shocking – but for the sake of these children who are desperate for the truth to be known, we cannot look away.”
These are the opening words of a savage indictment levelled at the Australia’s criminal justice system by Four Corners, Australia’s premier investigative journalism program. In a documentary almost certain to tear strips of Australia’s already battered human rights reputation, film footage of treatment described as cruel, torturous and barbaric was broadcasted across the country. Already many people are describing the revelations as one of the darkest chapters in Australia’s recent history.
Watch the full documentary here.
Almost immediately the country’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called for a royal commission, the highest form of public enquiry available to the Australian government. “Like all Australians, I am deeply shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children at the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre. My Government will establish a Royal Commission into the events at the Detention Centre jointly with the Northern Territory Government. We will get to the bottom of what happened here, how this came about and what lessons can be learned from it. We want to know why there were inquiries into this centre which did not turn up the evidence that has come to light.” Wrote the Prime Minister on his facebook page Tuesday morning.
What has outraged both the nation and foreign spectators is the age of the victims being mistreatment. In one particularly disturbing film, a 17-year-old boy is strapped to a mechanical restraint chair and a hood put over his head whilst he is left alone in a small cell for hours. This was not an isolated event. The child, who is the subject of much of the documentary, is seen in various other situations violently being stripped and held down only to be left alone in a crouched and fetal position and in obvious distress. He was at the time of these films as young as 13.
In another, prison guards giggle and mock a 13-year-old boy’s singular protest at being held in solitary confinement, with no natural light and no running water 23.5 hours a day for several weeks before subjecting him and 5 others to close range and confined tear gassing. “That will learn you” and “now he is shiting himself” are some of the utterances of prison guards as the (up to) 8-minute treatment is inflicted before they are shackled, dragged out and sprayed with fire hoses.
Former workers of the facilities have now come forward and claimed that they had lost their jobs for speaking out about the violence within the institutions. “They shut me up, they charged me under the public service act and went through the process and sacked me.” says one of the whistle-blowers in an article published in national media following the film’s release.
There have been broad reactions across the legal profession in Australia including calls for the now imminent enquiry to include other regions and states in Australia. The indigenous barrister Joshua Creamer said to the Australian National Broadcaster, “There is systemic failures across the system. And what you’re being told and what I’m hearing about what happens in Queensland is similar to things I’m hearing happening in other states, so why should we restrict this royal commission to Northern Territory only?”
The Australian government will now, over the coming days discuss the terms in which the enquiry will be performed.