Deaths in controversial and contested circumstances include deaths in custody, immigration detention, health care, at borders and following disasters. In Australia, more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since 1991. Since 2014, 12 people have died in offshore immigration detention on Manus Island and Nauru. Deaths in contested circumstances raise profound issues of accountability and justice for bereaved families, and persistent concerns remain about institutional responses within criminal justice, mental health and physical care.
In Australia and internationally it is evident that institutional responses to contested deaths are inadequate and fail to address families’ and communities’ demands for transparency, public scrutiny and accountability. The Guardian’s Deaths Inside database and the website Deathscapes are excellent digital initiatives dedicated to raising awareness. They have contributed to a growing, interactive public dialogue focusing on deaths in controversial and contested circumstances.
Our panel will reflect on these important initiatives, draw on established research, acknowledge the significance of community-based activism and focus on methods and practices for securing transparency as it considers the significance and impact of advocacy in obtaining justice.
This event was held at the University of Sydney on Monday 19 November 2018.
- Lorena Allam, Indigenous affairs editor for the Guardian. Lorena Allam is descended from the Gamilaraay and Yawalaraay nations of north west NSW, and has worked in journalism for almost 30 years. She has trained broadcasters, mentored students, and was the media officer for the Bringing them Home Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. Lorena is a key member of Deaths Inside, a project by the Guardian which tracks every Indigenous death in custody since 2008.
- Phil Scraton, Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University Belfast, is a widely published critical social researcher including on deaths in custody, the politics of incarceration, the marginalisation of children and young people, and the impact of disasters. Phil Scraton is a founder member of INQUEST, wrote Hillsborough: The Truth, led the ground-breaking research for the Hillsborough Independent Panel into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, and works closely with bereaved families and survivors.
- Suvendrini Perera, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Curtin University, and joint lead investigator of the ARC-funded international Deathscapes project mapping race and state violence in settler colonial societies. Suvendrini Perera has published seven critical books on issues of social justice and combines her academic career with participation in policymaking, public life and activism. She is co-founder of Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites with Joseph Pugliese.
- Joseph Pugliese, Professor and Researcher Director, Macquarie University, and joint lead investigator the ARC-funded international Deathscapes project. Joseph Pugliese has published acclaimed books and articles on the intersections of social justice, race, ethnicity and racism, and together with Suvendrini Perera, co-founded Researchers Against Pacific Black Sites, a group working to expose violence exercised on Australia’s asylum seekers and refugees.
- Rebecca Scott Bray, Associate Professor of Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Sydney whose research focuses on issues around death and the deceased in law and society.
Image (at top): Marziya Mohammedali, Call Them Home, 2016. Photo: Michelle Bui.