Hundreds rallied in Australian cities on Saturday to demand a government-ordered probe into allegations of abuse against indigenous children at a juvenile detention centre be extended into a full, national inquiry.
There has been public outrage nationwide since the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this week aired footage showing teenage inmates being teargassed and abused.
Aboriginal flags were held aloft in Sydney as demonstrators denounced measures announced so far by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s administration.
“This is one of the most brutal, racist attacks on our young people that we have seen in the recent history of this country and what is the government going to do? Send in a red neck judge to make a hypocrisy of this inquiry before it even starts,” aboriginal activist Jenny Munro told the Sydney rally.
“I want to see public officers held to account for their crimes against indigenous people, I want to see politicians held to account for the legislation they put through which causes the suffering and leads to the suffering of indigenous people.” said one of the Sydney protesters, journalism student James McCallum.
The United Nations Human Rights High Commission backs calls for the inquiry to be extended beyond the Northern Territory where the abuse was exposed. It has also urged Australia to compensate children abused in prison.
“We are shocked by the video footage that has emerged from Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory,” the UN Human Rights High Commission said in a statement.
“We call 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 footage of teenage inmates at the Don Dale youth detention centre includes guards strapping a half-naked, hooded boy to a chair.
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez said that the use of hoods, restraints and gas on children in detention centres could violate the UN treaty barring torture.
The case highlights concern about the disproportionate numbers of aboriginal youth in custody, with indigenous leaders calling for politicians to deal with the wider issue of the treatment of Aborigines in Australia.
Aborigines comprise just three percent of Australia’s population but make up 27 percent of those in prison and represent 94 percent of the Northern Territory’s juvenile inmates.
Australia’s roughly 700,000 indigenous citizens track near the bottom of almost every economic and social indicator for the country’s 23 million people.