Covid-19: Urgent call to lift restrictions banning visitors to detention centers – The World
Covid-19: Urgent call to lift restrictions banning visitors to detention centers – The World

Covid-19: Urgent call to lift restrictions banning visitors to detention centers – The World

Joint public statement

Geneva, May 9, 2022

As Covid-19 cases and fatalities continue to decline in most regions around the world, public health measures and restrictions are being loosened to an unprecedented degree. While people around the world return to live their lives as normally as possible, the detainees remain largely excluded from returning to normalcy. Restrictions on their rights still affect over 11 million people held in penitentiary institutions, human rights groups and experts said today.

New research by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) shows that measures restricting the central exercise of rights have in many cases been adopted without due regard for the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity and with very limited judicial oversight. In countries such as Honduras, Togo, Uganda and Nepal, to name a few, general bans on family visits and the access of civil society organizations to detention centers have extended over extended periods. As a result, thousands of detainees, including over 250,000 children in detention centers and many thousands of people held in detention centers outside the criminal justice system, have not been able to see their families for two years.

The research process and methodology included input from over 70 civil society organizations and experts in the field of anti-torture, detention, health and public health. Today, they call for immediate action to reverse the isolation and suffering that many prisoners continue to suffer around the world ever since the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020.

While maintaining the health of detainees in assemblies and often crowded environments should be a top priority, Covid-19-related measures should be guided by a human rights-based approach. Equal access to Covid-19 vaccination, justice when it comes to promoting health and disease prevention, and the need to guarantee mental health and emotional well-being for those held in detention centers are essential.

Restrictions on visits have had a major impact on the mental health and emotional well-being of prisoners and their families, as described in our new guide. Breaking the walls of isolation: Ensuring contact with families of detainees in a world of Covid-19. Despite the existence of international standards and guidelines confirming the need for children to maintain social attachment and, in particular, personal visits by family members, restrictions involving the suspension and reduction of visits have also applied to children deprived of their liberty.

Many of these restrictions and protocols have not been communicated to prisoners and their families. In fact, while the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the growing importance of information in times of crisis, our new guidance note *** “Breaking the walls of silence: Access to information for detainees in a world with Covid-19” ** * shows a lack of official data or the provision of unreliable or manipulated data on Covid-19 cases, infection rates, health status, deaths among detainees and vaccination coverage, among other issues of public interest.

The lack of access to information and the collective isolation that prisoners continue to face in many countries has serious consequences for maintaining the absolute ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition, the lack of transparency and isolation from families and the outside world are crucial risk factors for increased tensions and violence in detention centers.

The OMCT and undersigned civil society organizations and experts call on states and prisons and other detention agencies around the world to:

  • Adhere to the principle of non-discrimination by lifting or easing Covid-19 restrictions. Covid-19-related restrictions in detention environments should be adapted to the gradual removal of restrictions for the general population. All unjustified restrictions on human rights should be lifted immediately;

  • Guarantee the right to communicate with the outside world and to receive regular visits, which is a fundamental right that ensures the dignity and well-being of detainees and protects the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment. Restrictions on family contact must be established by law, adopted only when strictly required (when less harmful alternatives do not exist), for a limited period and subject to periodic judicial review;

  • Guarantee access to all places of detention for lawyers, national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) and other independent monitoring bodies, including civil society organizations, as well as medical staff, with all the necessary sanitary and safety protocols;

  • maintain the right of persons deprived of their liberty to receive reliable, accurate and up-to-date information;

  • Adopt and publish an emergency protocol, including a roadmap, in the event of an emergency (which could be a new Covid-19 variant or other emergency): to guarantee transparency (regular press conferences, bulletins, agreement with NPM, etc.) ; to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and to guarantee access to independent redress mechanisms; to ensure meaningful and frequent contact between the detainees and the outside world, their families and especially lawyers;

  • Detainees who have been isolated from their families and social networks should be entitled to compensatory measures, including consideration of access to early and conditional release schemes. Access to mental health services is paramount and should be guaranteed and scaled for detainees and their families.

Encourages civil society organizations and the anti-torture movement to:

  • Participate in the call for the abolition of closure policies, drawing on the arguments on health, human rights, security and prison management put forward in the new guidance notes;

  • Continue to promote strategies, including advocacy, campaigns and litigation, to push back against the entrenchment of unwarranted restrictions and to trigger increased transparency in traditionally opaque detention administrations;

  • Engage with international bodies, in particular by submitting alternative reports to UN treaty bodies, to provide details on the impact of the pandemic and related restrictions in detention centers and to advocate for a human rights-based contingency plan and response to the new outbreak or emergency.

Encourage academics and experts to:

  • Further assess the impact of closure policies on the health and personal integrity of detainees, including on their right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment; identify the most urgent and appropriate remedial and replacement responses; issue recommendations for the future phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, including a possible transition from a pandemic to an endemic phase, and in the context of long-term reform agendas.

List of signatory experts and civil society organizations:

World Organization against Torture (OMCT)

ACAT Italia, Azione dei Cristiani per l’abolizione della tortura- Italien

Action for the abolition of torture (ACAT) – Chad

Action for Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) – Cameroon

Adam Bodnar, Professor of Law at SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Member of OMCT Covid-19 Crisis Action Group) – Poland

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association – Palestine

Advocacy Forum – Nepal

AdvocAid – Sierra Leone

Africa End Sexual Harassment Initiative (AESHI) – Kenya

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights – Palestine

Alliance for the Fundamental Rights of the Fundamental Rights (AUDF ONG) – Democratic Republic of the Congo

Alternative Espace Citoyens (AEC) – Niger

Antigone – Italy

Iridia Association – Center for the Defense of Human Rights – Spain

Association for Human Rights of Spain (APDHE) – Spain

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Uzbekistan / France

Malienne Association for Survival in the Sahel (AMSS) – Mali

Association of Moroccan Human Rights (AMDH) – Morocco

Beladi Organization for Human Rights – Libya

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee – Bulgaria

Camilo Eduardo Umaña Hernández, Professor of Law at the Universidad Externado de Colombia – Colombia

Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) – Cameroon

Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) – Argentina

Center for the Study of Crime and Public Safety, Federal University of Minas Gerais – Brazil

Treatment and Rehabilitation Prevention Center for Victims of Torture and Families (CPTRT) – Honduras

Change Social Benin – Benin

Children’s Fund in Kazakhstan – Kazakhstan

Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CİSST) – Turkey

Collectif des Associations Contre l’Impunité au Togo (CACIT) – Togo

Human Rights Commission (COMISEDH) – Peru

Family Committee of Detained Disappeared Persons in Honduras (COFADEH) – Honduras

Committee against Torture – Russia

Cross Cultural Foundation – Thailand

Documenta – Mexico

Egyptian Commission on Rights and Freedoms – Egypt

FIACAT – International Federation of ACATs (Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture)

Tunisia Forum on Economic and Social Rights (FTDES) – Tunisia

Fundación Comité de Solidaridad med Presos Politicos – Colombia

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor – Armenia

Human Rights Alarm (HRA) – India

Human Rights Association (İHD) -Turkey

Human Rights Center – Georgia

Nepal Human Rights Organization (HURON) – Nepal

Hungary Helsinki Committee (HHC) – Hungary

Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) – Kenya

Institute of Therapy and Investigation on the Secrets of Torture and Violence of the State (ITEI) – Bolivia

KontraS – Indonesia

Libyan Crime Watch – Libya

Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH) – Tunisia

Medical Action Group, Inc. – Philippines

Ivory Coast Human Rights Movement (MIDH) – Ivory Coast

Observatory of the Criminal System and Human Rights (OSPDH) of the University of Barcelona – Spain

Odhikar – Bangladesh

Organization Against Torture in Tunisia (OCTT) – Tunisia

Pastoral Social – Caritas. Diocese of San Pedro Sula – Honduras

Physicians for Human Rights

Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) – Nigeria

Promo LEX Association – Republic of Moldova

Public Organization “Human Rights Center” – Republic of Tajikistan

Public Verdict Foundation – Russia

Dr. Ranit Mishori, Professor of Family Medicine at Georgetown University and Senior Medical Advisor at Physicians for Human Rights (Member of OMCT Covid-19 Crisis Action Group) – USA

African Meeting for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) – Senegal

Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa (REDHAC) – Cameroon

Network for Migration and DEVELOPMENT (REMIDEV) – Senegal

SALAM DHR – Bahrain

Professional Society for Dignity and Justice – Guatemala

Solidarity Center – Kenya

SOS Information Juridique Multisectorielle (SOS IJM Asbl) – Democratic Republic of the Congo

SUARAM – Malaysia

Susanna Marietti, National Coordinator, Antigone (member of OMCT Covid-19 Crisis Action Group) – Italy

Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) – Philippines

Tawergha Youth Organization – Libya

The Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya) – Kenya

Uju Agomoh PhD, CEO, PRAWA – Nigeria

A Ventana a la Libertad – Venezuela

United Against Torture Coalition (UATC) – Philippines

Xumek – Argentina

Youth for Human Rights Documentation (YHRD) – India

This statement has been discussed and approved by the OMCT Covid-19 Crisis Action Group, an advisory body made up of prominent experts in detention, torture prevention, criminal justice, health, children’s rights, women’s rights and human rights defenders. For more information, read our guidance notes.

For more information, please contact:

Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications

[email protected],

+41 79 539 41 06

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