Footage from an ABC investigation revealed juvenile detention center guards in Australia's Northern Territory shackling, hooding, taunting, and teargassing detained children—as well as leaving them in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.
Such abuse of children "may amount to torture by the government responsible for their care."
—UNICEF AustraliaThe haunting footage that aired Monday on the investigative program "Four Corners" provoked comparisons to the U.S. military's illegal torture of detainees in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, scandalizing human rights observers in Australia and worldwide.
Australia's Indigenous Affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, characterized the TV documentary as "some of the most disturbing footage I have ever seen." He added: "And it beggars belief that the people that we put in charge of [caring] for vulnerable children in detention and[...] looking after their welfare were in fact brutalizing those children."
In one segment that has garnered particular outrage, 17-year-old Dylan Voller was shown being hooded and shackled to a chair, where he was left in solitary confinement for hours:
Voller and five other former inmates are now suing the Northern Territory government over their treatment while detained, according to the Guardian.
The ABC footage, in addition to documenting widespread abuses, also contradicted guards' prior testimony at several points. The Independent reports:
When six children were tear gassed at Don Dale in August 2014, government representatives said guards were forced to restrain them as they staged a riot and attempted to escape.
But CCTV and videos taken by staff showed that only one boy had left his cell and was smashing a light fitting into walls and reinforced windows.
The other five boys remained locked in their cells in the isolation wing when they were sprayed with tear gas at close range, with footage showing guards laughing as they coughed and screamed, with one saying he could not breathe.
Children's advocacy organization UNICEF Australia observed on Monday that the abuse of children documented by ABC "may amount to torture by the government responsible for their care."
"As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," the group added, "Australia must fulfill its promise: 'No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment...Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.'"
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has launched a federal inquiry into the abuse. Turnbull told reporters, "Like all Australians, we were shocked and appalled by the images of mistreatment of children at the detention center."
Yet the alarming footage was recorded between 2010 and 2015, leading some observers to say that in fact the abusive treatment of children was widely known and ignored by those in power. The Guardian reports: