High-profile human rights lawyers Geoffrey Robertson QC and Jennifer Robinson want to bring the death of Indigenous man David Dungay Jr in NSW custody in 2015 to the attention of the United Nations.

Mr Robertson and Ms Robinson stood beside Mr Dungay’s mother Leetona on Thursday as they addressed the media about his death.

They aim to bring Mr Dungay’s case “to the international community” in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, galvanised by the 2020 death of George Floyd Jr at police hands in Minneapolis in the US.

Mr Floyd’s death at the time sparked global protests.

The lawyers accused the NSW government of failing to hold those responsible for Mr Dungay’s death to account.

Ms Dungay will make a complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, arguing the NSW government failed to protect her son’s right to life.

She will also raise the failure of successive Australian governments to implement all the recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

“My son had a right to live. He had the right to be safe from harm,” Ms Dungay said in a statement.

“I have the right to demand accountability and justice for what happened to David.

“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.”

Mr Robertson said on Thursday that justice included the “right to life and, where life is taken by the state, the right to a proper inquiry”.

“It’s all we’re asking for,” Mr Robertson told reporters.

The lawyers will raise “the systemic failures of the Australian government to take appropriate action in response to the human rights crisis in this country, which is Indigenous deaths in custody,” Ms Robinson said.

A 2019 coronial inquest into the 26-year-old’s December 2015 death at Long Bay jail found the prison officers involved were not motivated by malicious intent.

Mr Dungay, a diabetic, died at the jail’s hospital after being restrained in his cell because he refused to hand over a packet of biscuits he was eating.

Footage played during the inquest showed Mr Dungay repeatedly screaming “I can’t breathe” to which one officer replied: “You’re talking, you can breathe.”

Mr Dungay was restrained by five prison officers and pinned down on the bed, and was seen spitting blood as he was taken from the cell.

After being placed in a second cell, he was injected with the sedative midazolam but died an hour after officers first entered his cell.

“The Australian government has obligations under international law to protect the right to life and to prevent deaths in custody,” Ms Robinson said.

“Australia has failed to implement recommendations from both the Royal Commission and UN bodies to prevent deaths in custody.

“As a result, 30 years on from the Royal Commission, the rate of First Nations deaths in custody remains unacceptably high, with at least five deaths already in 2021.”

Lawyers to take NSW Dungay death global
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