SYDNEY - An Aboriginal mother in Australia will take a human rights claim over her son's 2015 death in custody to the United Nations.
“I can't breathe,” were among the last words spoken by David Dungay Jr.
Video shown at an Australian inquiry into his death six years ago documented his final moments. He was struggling to breathe as he was held face down by a group of guards at Sydney’s Long Bay jail and injected with a sedative. The 26-year-old Indigenous man was being restrained by officers trying to stop him from eating biscuits because of fears he could fall into a diabetic coma.
The inquest later found that none of the guards should face disciplinary action. No criminal charges have ever been filed over Dungay’s death.
His mother, Leetona Dungay, and a team of high-profile lawyers have argued Australia violated her son's human rights and failed to protect his life.
Having campaigned vociferously in Australia, they are taking their case to the United Nations, filing a complaint with its Human Rights Commission.
Leetona Dungay says the U.N. must be told about a “crisis” in Australia’s criminal justice system.
“I will not stop until I get justice for my son,” she said. “My heart bleeds for him every day. The so-called justice system in my country, Australia, has failed; failed me, my son, my family and my people. I am going to keep fighting until we live in the country where Black lives matter.”
Leetona Dungay’s legal team is also seeking to put pressure on the government in Canberra over its record on Indigenous deaths in custody.
Aboriginal Australians are among the most incarcerated people in the world.
They make up about 3% of Australia’s population, but almost a third of prison inmates.
While Indigenous prisoners do not die at a greater rate than non-Aboriginal people in custody, they are vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
Since a historic inquiry into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991, at least 474 Indigenous people have died behind bars.
Australia’s Attorney General's Department has said that 78% of the royal commission’s 339 recommendations had been fully or mostly implemented. However, those statistics are disputed by some Aboriginal organizations.