Immigration's use of force breaches rights

Force should only be used as a last resort, according to a major report into immigration detention.
Force should only be used as a last resort, according to a major report into immigration detention.

Immigration officers burst into a 19-year-old detainee's bedroom and refused to leave as she dressed.

The case is one of 14 examined by the Human Rights Commission in a special report on the use of force in immigration detention.

In nine of them, people's human rights were breached and they should be paid compensation, the commission has found.

The Home Affairs department disputes the findings but has changed its internal policies since seeing a preliminary version of the report.

"Force should only ever be used as a last resort where alternatives such as negotiation and de-escalation techniques have been exhausted," commission president Rosalind Croucher said in releasing the report on Wednesday.

"Any use of force should be limited to what is essential in the circumstances and should be used only for the shortest amount of time necessary."

Force should not be used as punishment or for cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

In one case, a man on Christmas Island was beaten and had his head pushed into a concrete floor, knocking out a tooth.

Another was handcuffed for 8.5 hours while transferred from Sydney to Perth, despite a significant wrist wound.

Prof Croucher says there are no records of why he was handcuffed, whether senior officials approved the measure or any suggestion a doctor was consulted.

A different man was handcuffed for 12 hours while flown from Christmas Island to Perth and on to Melbourne.

The report finds he was restrained not because he posed any risk but because he was travelling with other detainees who had to be cuffed and because he was Vietnamese and other Vietnamese detainees had previously attempted escape.

Prof Croucher also examined complaints from four family groups about force used when they were being moved from Wickham Point detention centre in Darwin and sent to Melbourne.

She found that in a couple of cases the use of force was acceptable but for most, handcuffs should not have been used.

"It is not sufficient ... for a blanket approval to be given for restraints to be applied to any person," she writes.

"The circumstances of individuals to be restrained still need to be taken into account individually."

It was one of these families who complained about their 19-year-old daughter being forced to dress in front of male immigration officers.

The report says this was neither reasonable nor a proportionate response, particularly given there was at least one female officer involved in the operation who accompanied the young woman's nine-year-old brother.

Prof Croucher says the cases raise several systemic concerns.

These include that process to assess risk from detainees is not nuanced enough - for example, it treats swearing the same as physical aggression.

It also applies blanket rules, such as saying all physically fit adults must be restrained during their first 28 days in detention, something the commission recommends stops immediately.

She also says it's vital there is effective oversight, clear lines of approval and records kept.

"The best way to do this is to ensure that any pre-planned use of force (and other uses of force to the extent possible) are filmed in their entirety."

Australian Associated Press