Grieving mother files UN human rights complaint over son’s death in custody

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday September 1, 2021

Dungay’s mother is being represented by prominent barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC and Jennifer Robinson
Dungay’s mother is being represented by prominent barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC and Jennifer Robinson. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The death of Aboriginal man David Dungay Jnr while in custody is the subject of a complaint brought by his mother, Leetona Dungay, to the UN Human Rights Committee against Australia.

Her 26-year-old son died in December 2015 after being restrained by five officers at Long Bay prison in Sydney. “I can’t breathe”, footage of Dungay’s restraint during the course of an attempted cell move shows. After shouting this line at least 12 times, his lawyers say he lost consciousness and died. 

“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,” Leetona said.

“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.”

Dungay’s mother is being represented by prominent barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC and Jennifer Robinson in her complaint about the death of the Dunghutti man six years ago. The complaint is being filed together with the National Justice Project and the UTS Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research. 

Speaking at a launch event for the international effort in May, Robertson said because there was no bill of rights in Australia, the UN’s tribunal panel could objectively evaluate the tragedy.

“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,” Robertson said.

Robinson acknowledged the ‘enormous strength and courage’ of Leetona Dungay during her fight for accountability and justice. 

“We are committed to supporting Leetona to take her advocacy to the United Nations.

“Thirty years on from the Royal Commission [into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody], the rate of First Nations deaths in custody remains unacceptably high, with at least five deaths already in 2021.This has to change,” she said.


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