Australia faces UN Human Rights Committee Complaint Over Aboriginal Deaths in Custody From Family of David Dungay Jnr

Geoffrey Robertson QC and Jennifer Robinson are representing Leetona Dungay, the mother of David Dungay Jr., in her complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee against Australia in relation to her son’s death in custody.

Dunghutti Aboriginal man David Dungay Jr, 26, died in December 2015 at Long Bay prison in Sydney after being restrained by five prison officers during a cell move. During the restraint, David screamed “I can’t breathe” at least 12 times before he lost consciousness and died. No one has faced criminal investigation or disciplinary charges in relation to his death.

The circumstances of David’s death have led to widespread comparisons between his case and that of George Floyd in the United States. David’s family’s campaign for justice and accountability has sparked mass #BlackLivesMatter protests in Australia and a government petition signed by over 100,000 people for prosecution of the officers responsible.

The complaint, filed together with the National Justice Project and the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), raises the failure of Australia to protect David’s right to life, highlighting the historic and systemic failures to prevent indigenous deaths in custody.  As Leetona Dungay said:

“My son had a right to live. He had the right to be safe from harm. And I have the right to demand accountability and justice for what happened to David. The government and the prison had a duty of care to keep David safe, with people who were trained properly to keep him alive. The system failed, and David lost his life because of that failure.”

This international legal effort was launched at NSW Parliament in May, to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, of which there have been almost 500 to date with no convictions.

As Geoffrey Robertson QC said at the launch event:

“We have to deal with the situation that Australia lacks a bill of rights so we have to go to the UN court, a tribunal of 18 experts, who will objectively consider whether [David]’s life mattered sufficiently for there to be proper inquiries afterwards. To this very day we are still failing to get it right and failing to give justice.”

Jennifer Robinson said:

“[W]e acknowledge the enormous strength, courage and determination that Leetona Dungay has shown in her tireless fight for accountability and justice for her son David Dungay Jr. We are committed to supporting Leetona to take her advocacy to the United Nations. Thirty years on from the Royal Commission, the rate of First Nations deaths in custody remains unacceptably high, with at least five deaths already in 2021. This has to change”.

The case has been covered widely by domestic and international media.

See, for example, stories from ABC News (Australia),  ABC RN Drive (Australia), The Guardian (Australia + UK), The Guardian Podcast (Australia), SBS News  (Australia), NITV  (Australia), BBC World News  (International), MSN News  (International), AJ+ (Al Jazeera)  (International), Yahoo News  (International), Voice of America (US), The Globe Post (US), Macau Business (Macau), Kuwait Times  (Kuwait),  Free Malaysia Today (Malaysia) and The Daily Star  (Bangladesh).