Unique course a weapon against cruelty

A new, Australia- first, course and opportunities to work at the coalface of the fight against torture will equip students to make an impact in the human rights sector.

In a move to prepare more skilled and empathetic advocates in the social justice field, Australian Catholic University has introduced a Bachelor of Human Rights. The national university will in 2023 welcome its first cohort who will develop substantial understanding of the fundamentals of human rights law.

The unique three-year undergraduate degree is set to launch students into careers in advocacy, policy development, social services, international relations and, when combined with a Bachelor of Laws, law.

It is the latest course from the Thomas More Law School that is already offering students real world opportunities to make a difference in human rights and social justice.  

Students have assisted dean of law Professor Patrick Keyzer with the development of international communications to the Committee Against Torture and to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

“I have been delighted with the energy and intellectual ability of our law students, who have volunteered their time as part of our pro bono program on behalf of people who would not otherwise have legal representation," Professor Keyzer said.

There has rarely been a more important time to prepare skilled human rights advocates.

Torture is not merely a brutal feature of foreign dictatorships but is a heartbreaking reality in Australia, according to Professor Keyzer.

The dean of law has called for heightened vigilance and greater accountability ahead of Australia’s expected appearance before the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture on November 15 and 16 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Professor Keyzer was a co-author of a report submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture that catalogued claims, including torture, cruelty and inhuman treatment inflicted within Australia’s immigration detention centres.

“Australia’s not as progressive as we might think,” Professor Keyzer warned. “There’s aspects of our immigration and justice systems that are horribly draconian and cruel.”

Australia signed the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in December 1985. The country is obliged to comply fully with the Torture Convention.

The issue came to a head in October when The United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) visited jails and hospitals in the Northern Territory but suspended the rest of its tour after facing obstruction by Queensland and New South Wales authorities.

“Australia’s use of the Christmas Island Detention Centre to pressure people to sign release papers authorising their removal from the country is an appalling abrogation of our international human rights obligations,” Professor Keyzer said.

“People who are plainly and obviously unwell have been incarcerated on Christmas Island in conditions and in circumstances that need to be subjected to proper scrutiny. Australia violates human rights with impunity, and this needs to change.”

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