MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Hundreds of people rallied in major cities across Australia on Saturday criticizing the government’s response to video showing aboriginal children being teargassed and abused in prison.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ordered an inquiry into the treatment of children in the detention centre after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this week aired footage showing guards teargassing teenage inmates and strapping a half-naked, hooded boy to a chair.
But he has rejected calls for a broader national inquiry.
The United Nation Human Rights High Commission called on Australia on Friday to compensate children abused in prison.
“We are shocked by the video footage that has emerged from Don Dale youth detention center in the Northern Territory,” the UN Human Rights office of 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 Commission also called on the government to ratify the Optional Protocol to Convention Against Torture, which would allow independent investigators to inspect detention facilities.
Around 700 people rallied in Melbourne on Saturday and similar protests were held in other major cities around the country. A Reuters photographer estimated about 300 people turned out in Sydney.
Indigenous Australian rapper Adam Briggs told Reuters the issues were national ones and not limited to the Northern Territory.
“The elephant in the room is that it is a racism problem, but they aren’t addressing that,” Briggs said.
The Northern Territory’s corrections minister was sacked just hours following the broadcast and on Wednesday the territory suspended the use of hoods and restraints on children.
On Friday the Northern Territory government dropped charges against two of the six children teargassed by police. According to court documents, the children had been charged in June for damaging the prison in an escape attempt.
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez said that the use of hoods, restraints and gas on children in detention centers could violate the U.N. 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.
(Reporting by Jarni Blakkarly; Editing by Kim Coghill)