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Indigenous deaths in custody: inquests can be sites of justice or administrative violence

Alison Whittaker writes in The Conversation (15.4.21) about the failings of official inquest and investigation processes for Aboriginal deaths in police custody, on the thirtieth anniversary of the 1991 Royal Commission report into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

‘Five Aboriginal people have died in custody in the last month in Australia.

‘It’s been 30 years since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody examined 99 deaths between 1980 and 1989 and made over 30 recommendations into how deaths in custody should be investigated.

‘A government-commissioned review of the royal commission’s recommendations declared many had been implemented — but critics reject that characterisation as “misleadingly positive”.

‘On the ground, little has changed — 474 Indigenous people have died in custody since the report was handed down.

‘… Inquests are central to the violence of deaths in custody. For some who lose their loved ones in custody, they are a site of justice and change; for many, they are a site of fresh administrative violence.

‘Communities and families continue to push for justice, despite the immovable barriers placed in their path and even when, 30 years on from the royal commission, accountability for any death in custody seems distant or almost impossible.’

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