Posts Tagged ‘medical care’

UN rights chief urges Iran to release jailed Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders, citing COVID-19 risk

October 7, 2020

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According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), conditions in Iranian prisons, suffering from chronic overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, have worsened during the pandemic. Shortage of water and inadequate protective equipment, testing, isolation and treatment have led to a spread of coronavirus among detainees, reportedly resulting in a number of deaths. 

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined the responsibility of States to ensure health and well-being of all individuals under their care, including those in prisons. 

Under international human rights law, States are responsible for the well-being, as well as the physical and mental health, of everyone in their care, including everyone deprived of their liberty,” she said in a news release, on Tuesday 6 October 2020.  

People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk,” she added. 

In February, the Iranian judiciary issued directives on temporary releases to reduce the prison population and avoid further spread of the virus, benefiting some 120,000 inmates, according to official figures, said OHCHR, adding that the measures appear to have been suspended, and prisoners have been required to return in large numbers.  

In addition, people sentenced to more than five years in prison for “national security” offences were excluded from the schemes. 

As a result, most of those who may have been arbitrarily detained – including human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conservationists, and others deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or exercising other rights – have been placed at a heightened risk of contracting the virus, added the Office. 

“I am disturbed to see how measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been used in a discriminatory way against this specific group of prisoners,” said High Commissioner Bachelet. 

One of the most emblematic cases is that of prominent lawyer and women’s rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was given a combined prison sentence of over 30 years on charges related to her human rights work. Her life is believed to be at considerable risk as she suffers from a heart condition, and has been weakened by a long hunger strike.  

Once again, I urge the authorities to immediately release her, and grant her the possibility of recuperating at home before undergoing the medical treatment of her choice,” said Ms. Bachelet 

Over the years, she has been a persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians, and it is time for the Government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others.”  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/]

The High Commissioner also voiced concerns over persistent and systematic targeting of individuals who express any dissenting view, and the criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights. 

“It is disheartening to see the use of the criminal justice system as a tool to silence civil society,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1074722

Nasrin Sotoudeh ends her hunger strike as UN experts write joint letter

September 27, 2020

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh
Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Sotoudeh had been on a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison since August 11 to protest the risk that political prisoners in Iran face amid the coronavirus pandemic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/06/german-judges-give-their-human-rights-award-to-iranian-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh/%5D

On September 19, she was taken to hospital for a serious heart condition. But four days later, she was taken back to Evin prison, triggering disbelief from UN independent experts among others.

“It is unfathomable that the Iranian authorities would return Ms. Sotoudeh to prison where she is at heightened risk to COVID-19, as well as with her serious heart condition,” the experts said.

We urge the authorities to immediately reverse this decision, accept her requests to recuperate at home before undergoing a heart procedure, and allow her to freely choose her own medical treatment,” they added in a statement.

The experts echoed Sotoudeh’s call for the Iranian authorities to grant temporary release to human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, and all other individuals detained without sufficient legal basis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

47 countries called on Iran to “protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained” in a Friday session of the UN Human Rights Council, according to a German diplomat, Susanne Baumann:

Susanne Baumann
@GERMANYonUN
Joint Statement on the dire human rights situation in Iran today in the Human Rights Council #HRC45, presented by Germany on behalf of 47 countries. We call on Iran to protect the human rights of all its citizens and release all political prisoners & arbitrarily detained.
———

https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-iranian-human-rights-defender-ends-hunger-strike-as-health-deteriorates/30859117.html

https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iran/26092020

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2009/S00203/iran-human-rights-lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-must-be-freed-for-treatment-say-un-experts.htm

Somali rights defender Hawa Abdi died

August 6, 2020

Somali human rights activist and philanthropist Dr. Hawa Abdi. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM
On 5 august 2020 David Ochieng Mbewa reported in AfricaCGTN the death of Somali rights activist Dr. Hawa Abdi, popularly known as Mama Hawa, at the age of 73.

The Ministry of Women HRD would like to send heartfelt condolences to the family & loved ones of Dr. Hawa Abdi. She was a fierce advocate for the rights of Somali women & children & dedicated her life to providing them with free healthcare. Her legacy will live on through the lives she changed,” the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development tweeted.

Abdi was famous for providing refuge for thousands of refugees using her own money and funds from donors in Somalia after founding the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, previously known as the Rural Health Development Organization. Abdi had studied medicine in Ukraine becoming one of Somalia’s first female gynecologists. She also went on to pursue law studies and worked for government hospitals in Somalia.

In 1983, she opened a one-room clinic, on her family’s ancestral property, which over the years grew into a settlement which hosts tens of thousands of people, mainly women and children. The settlement in the Afgooye corridor, less than 15 miles from Mogadishu, includes a hospital, a school and a refugee camp.

She famously stood her ground when Islamist militants laid siege to the settlement in 2010 and attempted to force her to shut it down. The militants ended up withdrawing from the compound following intense pressure from locals and rights groups and even apologised for the incident.

In 2010, she was named one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year along with her daughters, Amina and Deqo. In 2012 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and also won the BET’s Social Humanitarian Award.

Somali rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Hawa Abdi dies

https://www.garoweonline.com/en/news/somalia/somalias-doctor-to-the-poor-and-human-rights-activist-dies-at-73

Mary Lawlor calls death of human rights defender Askarov a stain on Kyrgyzstan’s reputation,

July 31, 2020

The death in prison of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov, who for 10 years had unsuccessfully challenged his life sentence, shows a cruel disregard for human rights in Kyrgyzstan, says said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/26/kyrgyzstan-activist-askarov-dies-in-prison-after-decade-battling-tainted-conviction/

I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Mr. Askarov’s death, despite multiple requests for his release on humanitarian grounds as his health deteriorated significantly in prison,”

Although the Kyrgyz Government shared detailed information on court proceedings and medical care afforded to Askarov, she criticized the government for not taking concerns about his health seriously.

“We learned in June that, in the midst of COVID-19, and despite his age and pre-existing conditions, Mr. Askarov did not qualify for early release under Kyrgyz law,” Lawlor said. “I now question whether more could have been done to protect his health.”

In the days before Askarov’s death, his lawyer made a number of urgent medical appeals to authorities after the 69-year-old fell ill with a cough, fever, aches and pains, and had difficulty eating and walking. It was only on 24 July 2020, when he had already been sick for 10 days, that he was transferred to a prison medical facility, where he died the following day.

“Mr. Askarov’s case should act as a reminder to all states of the serious and grave threat that prisoners in at-risk categories face during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. She stressed that human rights defenders and all those detained without sufficient legal basis, or most at risk of the virus, should be released…

Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes; the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Nils Melzer.

https://akipress.com/news:646397:Death_of_human_rights_defender_Azimjan_Askarov_a_stain_on_Kyrgyzstan_s_reputation,_says_UN_expert/

Kyrgyzstan: Activist Askarov dies in prison after decade battling tainted conviction

July 26, 2020

Jul 25, 2020 Rights activist Azimjan Askarov, seen here holding one of his self-portraits in his basement prison cell in February 2012. (Photo: Nate Schenkkan) Rights activist Azimjan Askarov, seen here holding one of his self-portraits in his basement prison cell in February 2012. (Photo: Nate Schenkkan)

EURasia.net of 25 July 2020 gives the sad new that Azimjan Askarov, a celebrated ethnic Uzbek humn rights defender, husband to Hadidja Askarova, has died in prison at the age of 69.

The news of his death on July 25 was confirmed by his longtime friend, supporter and fellow activist Tolekan Ismailova and his lawyer, Valeryan Vakhitov. He had suffered from poor health for much of his 10 years in prison, but his condition worsened significantly in the past two weeks. Vakhitov, who visited Askarov in prison only a few days before his death, said his client had lost his appetite, that his skin “looked yellowish in color,” and that he was unable to move unaided.

On July 24, prison officials dismissed those concerns and the reports of Askarov’s ill-health as “inaccurate information.” [https://www.rferl.org/a/jailed-rights-activist-askarov-transferred-to-different-kyrgyz-prison-amid-reports-of-poor-health/30745718.html]

Although the likelihood of Askarov’s imminent death had been widely anticipated, the actual event has stunned his longtime colleagues and the rights community.

I am devastated. When we saw one another for the last time, they brought him to me in their arms. I told him: ‘Please hang on, we love you,’ and he began crying. He seemed to feel something,” Vakhitov told Kloop news website.

Askarov was arrested on June 15, 2010, in the immediate aftermath of a deadly whirlwind of ethnic unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan that killed hundreds, mostly ethnic Uzbeks.

In the days, weeks and months that followed that bloodshed, security services mainly targeted ethnic Uzbeks for investigations, arrests and systematic harassment. Askarov was among the first to be singled out for this treatment.

He was charged with purported involvement in the killing of a police officer on June 13, 2010, in the southern town of Bazar-Korgon. Immediately after his arrest, Askarov was beaten, subjected to abuse and denied access to his lawyer. He spoke about some of that mistreatment in an interview with Eurasianet in 2012, two years into his life sentence.

“They nearly killed me,” he said, referring to local police. “They held my arms behind my back, and took a weight filled with water, and hit me with it [in the stomach]. They hit me over the head with it so that huge lumps rose up.” He also said he saw witnesses beaten bloody to force them to testify against him….

In 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that Kyrgyzstan had in its treatment of Askarov violated multiple articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Askarov’s initial criminal trial, as well as subsequent appeals, have been decried by legal experts as miscarriages of justice. Many supposed witnesses were intimidated into giving testimonies and people who would have spoken in his defense were denied that opportunity. Perhaps most ominously, hearings were routinely attended by relatives of the alleged murder victim, who openly threatened Askarov and his legal team with death. This pattern repeated over many years.

But as Philip Shishkin, a journalist, noted in his 2013 book Restless Valley, “of the many interesting things about the case, one detail stands out: the verdict relies heavily on the testimony of a half dozen policemen who had reasons to dislike Askarov even before his alleged participation in the murder of their colleague.”

Much of his 15 years of activism was focused on highlighting and documenting allegations of police abuse in his native Bazar-Korgon, including by some of the officers that then pursued his case…

In one typical rebuttal of criticism from 2015, the Foreign Ministry asserted that “the decision of the court was taken on the basis of undeniable evidence, Askarov’s guilt has been proven in all instances.”

“The Kyrgyz Republic stands for the supremacy of the law. The justice system is an independent branch of power,” the ministry said at the time.

There is strong reason to believe, however, that the government allowed itself to be taken hostage by the same kind of combustible, deeply violence-prone nationalist elements that lay behind the ethnic bloodshed of June 2010. Many notorious criminals have been allowed to walk free from prison in Kyrgyzstan over the decades, but as officials saw it, affording that same treatment to Askarov would have threatened to spark another cycle of unrest, immaterial of the legal particulars.

This reading was all but confirmed in an interview given to Eurasianet in 2018 by Roza Otunbayeva, who was interim president at the time of the ethnic unrest and Askarov’s arrest. Asked about the Askarov case, she evinced regret, but concluded that “it was a decision of our court. And this court’s decision was [upheld].” She did, however, have the authority to issue a pardon, which she declined to do.

“It was a decision that [would] again [have broken] the country,” she told Eurasianet. “I mean, the stability of the country, political consensus within the country was very much bound to such a touchy issue. And it was a very high price.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/23/fury-about-us-award-for-askarov-in-kyrgyzstan-backlash-or-impact/.

https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-activist-askarov-dies-in-prison-after-decade-battling-tainted-conviction

Chau Van Kham – Australian human rights defender – ‘disappeared’ inside Vietnam’s prison system

June 8, 2020

Chau Van Kham’s family has lost contact with him for nearly four months and fear the Australian government has ‘forgotten about him’ writes the Guardian on 6 June 2020.

Chau Van Kham

Vietnamese-born Australian, Chau Van Kham, was arrested in January 2019 and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on ‘financing terrorism’ charges. Photograph: HRW/HANDOUT/EPA

Ben Doherty reports that the 70-year-old Australian Vietnamese-born Chau has “disappeared” inside Vietnam’s prison system and that no one from his family or the Australian government has been allowed to see or speak with him for nearly four months. Human rights advocates, lawyers and Chau Van Kham’s family said the charges against him are baseless and politically motivated, his single-day multiple-defendant trial was grossly unfair, and his failing health means his 12-year prison sentence is “effectively a death sentence”.

Chau’s son Dennis told the Guardian his family feared his failing health will be exacerbated by his isolation.  Chau’s sister, who lives in Vietnam, had previously been allowed to visit once a month to give her brother money, medicine and letters from home. But she has been refused access and phone calls to him since 10 February. Consular visits scheduled for February, March, April and May were all cancelled out of concerns over the spread of Covid-19. Permission for a visit in June is pending.

He has literally disappeared,” Australian lawyer Dan Phuong Nguyen, who is acting pro bono for the Chau family, told the Guardian.

[Chau, an Australian citizen, was born in Vietnam and served in the army of the Republic of Vietnam before 1975. After the war, he was sent to a re-education camp for three years before he fled Vietnam by boat, arriving in Australia in 1983. In Sydney, he worked as a baker for decades, rising before dawn to work at a modest suburban bakery. In 2010, he became a member of the Viet Tan pro-democracy organisation, and became a key Australian organiser of pro-reform rallies and an outspoken advocate for democratisation in Vietnam. The United Nations describes Viet Tan as “a peaceful organisation advocating for democratic reform”, but it was formally proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the Vietnamese government in 2016, which said it was “a reactionary and terrorist organisation, always silently carrying out activities against Vietnam.]

Chau sought to return to Vietnam in 2019 to meet fellow pro-democracy advocates but was refused a visa. He crossed into Vietnam via a land border with Cambodia in January, carrying a false identity document. He was arrested after meeting a democracy activist who, it is believed, was under surveillance, along with Vietnamese nationals Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen, who were sentenced to 11 and 10 years prison respectively.

Chau was convicted and sentenced at his first appearance in the people’s court of Ho Chi Minh City after more than 10 months in detention.

The single-day judge-only trial, held simultaneously with four other people, saw him tried and convicted on charges of “financing terrorism”, and sentenced to 12 years in jail, all within four hours.

The court was effectively closed – open only for approved people, his family was excluded – for the entirety of the trial. Viet Tan condemned Chau’s hearing as a “sham trial” and said it would “continue to support human rights defenders on the ground”.  Chau’s appeal was dismissed in March.

Dennis Chau told a human rights summit in Geneva this year: “With a 12-year sentence, [my father will] be 82 when he is released … I don’t believe I’ll ever see him alive, a free man. It’s effectively a death sentence.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/07/jailed-australian-democracy-activist-has-disappeared-inside-vietnams-prison-system

Azerbaijan: OMCT campaigns for human rights defender Elchin Mammad

May 26, 2020

Azerbaijani Human Rights Defender Elchin Mammad is one the cases in the  #FacesOfHope campaign by OMCT to which I referred yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/25/faces-of-hope-campaign-human-rights-defenders-imprisoned-worldwide/].

As a human rights lawyer and journalist, Elchin Mammad is used to speaking his mind. The 42-year old attorney presides over the Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth (SULESY), a non-governmental organisation that provides free legal assistance to low income families and non-profits. His busy schedule also includesda job as the editor in chief of Yukselish Namine, a newspaper specializing in human rights concerns. On 30 March 2020, a few days after he had published online a critical report on the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, police officers arrested Elchin at his home in Sumgait, a town north of the capital Baku. The police claimed to have found stolen jewellery at his office.

The next day, Sumgait City Court remanded Elchin Mammad in custody for three months as a criminal suspect. The father of two young children remains detained under trumped-up charges at Shuvalan pre-trial detention centre no. 3. This latest twist is nothing new to Elchin. He has faced harassment from the authorities in connection with his human rights work since 2015, when his organisation was investigated. He was subjected to arbitrary detention, repeatedly summoned and questioned by the police. He was also placed under travel restrictions in connection with the investigation.

On 15 May, the government officially stated that there are 46 COVID-19 infected inmates in the country. This puts Elchin’s life at risk, particularly as he suffers from hepatitis C. Azerbaijan’s prison system is plagued by severe overcrowding, while food, medication, sanitation, and even drinking water are substandard. This has led to the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly ruling that detention conditions in the country amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. In times of pandemic, such an environment risks becoming an incubator for the novel coronavirus.

Elchin’s case is particularly emblematic of the Azerbaijani authorities’ abusive and arbitrary methods used to silence critical voices. In 2014, the government launched an unprecedented crackdown on civil society. Prominent human rights defenders joined other political prisoners in Azerbaijan’s jails, on fabricated criminal charges of financial irregularities. Although most were released after spending years in prison, as a result of international pressure, the situation of defenders remains precarious

The authorities have seized the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity to intensify the crackdown on civil society. On 19 March, President Ilham Aliyev used his yearly address to the nation on the Novruz Bayrami holiday to promise “new rules” for the duration of the pandemic, threatening to clear the country of “traitors” and “enemies” and to “isolate the fifth column”. To people like Elchin, who has dedicated his life to the defence of the downtrodden, these ominous words might now ring like a death sentence.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/26/azerbaijan-finally-full-acquittal-of-ilqar-mammadov-and-rasul-jafarov/

https://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/statements/azerbaijan/2020/05/d25855/

Filmmaker and human rights defender Shady Habash dies in Egyptian pre-trial detention

May 2, 2020

Shady Habash, 24, was a film director and cinematographer (Instagram/@ShadyHabash)

On 2 May 2020 the Middle East Eye reported that Egyptian film director and photographer Shady Habash reportedly passed away in Tora prison in the capital Cairo on Friday, according to human rights organisations.

Continuing Egypt’s revolution from exile: Ramy Essam and Ganzeer

[Habash and his colleague Mustafa Gamal were arrested following the release of Balaha, a song that indirectly poked fun at Sisi, the former defence minister who came to power after a military coup ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Essam, the singer who performed Balaha, is currently in exile in Sweden. The author of the song, Galal el-Beheiry, is also in jail.  “Balaha” is a derogatory nickname for Sisi, in reference to a character from a classic Egyptian movie known for being a compulsive liar. A statement by Essam after Habash’s arrest said that the director “doesn’t have anything to do with the content and message of the song”. Charges brought against Habash and Gamal include membership of a “terrorist group,” spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion and insulting the military. They have both been in pre-trial detention pending investigations since their arrests.]

Human Rights Watch has estimated that more than 60,000 political prisoners have been languishing in Egyptian jails since Sisi became president in 2014.  The former army general has routinely jailed critics, including secular and Muslim Brotherhood politicians, journalists, and human rights defenders. Hundreds have died in custody through medical negligence or other poor detention conditions.

On 5 May Egypt’s public prosecutor said that alcohol poisoning caused the death in jail of this young video maker after he drank liquid sanitiser he had mistaken for water.  https://news.yahoo.com/egyptian-video-maker-died-alcohol-poisoning-jail-prosecutor-015419633.html

For some older posts on Egypt, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/

Saudi Arabia ends death penalty for minors and flogging but Abdullah al-Hamid dies in detention

April 27, 2020

Many media reported on Saudi Arabia‘s King Salman having ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors and to floggings, which should indeed be considered progress. King Salman’s son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and revamp Saudi Arabia’s reputation globally. He’s also overseen a parallel crackdown on liberals, women’s rights activists, writers, moderate clerics and reformers. The 2018 killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey by agents who worked for the crown prince drew sharp criticism internationally. [for some ealrier posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

The latest royal decree could spare the death penalty for at least six men from the country’s minority Shiite community who allegedly committed crimes while under the age of 18, including Ali al-Nimr, who had participated in anti-government protests. Such activity carries terrorism-related charges in the kingdom for disturbing order and disobeying the ruler. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have long called on the kingdom to abolish the use of the death penalty, particularly for crimes committed by minors. The president of the Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, confirmed the latest decision in a statement Sunday, saying it helps the kingdom establish “a more modern penal code and demonstrates the kingdom’s commitment to following through on key reforms.” He said “more reforms will be coming,” and that the two decisions “reflect how Saudi Arabia is forging ahead in its realization of critical human rights reforms even amid the hardship imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Five years ago, prominent Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was given 50 lashes before hundreds of spectators in the metropolitan city of Jiddah. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/]. It drew outrage and condemnation from around the world, including from many of Saudi Arabia’s Western allies.

In the meantime long prison sentences carry their own risk as seen in the case of Saudi human rights defender Abdullah al-Hamid, 69, has died in custody in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, according to the Right Livelihood Foundation, which awarded a prize [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/14/right-livelihood-award-urges-freedom-for-3-saudi-laureates/]. It said on Friday that al-Hamid, who was serving an 11-year prison sentence, was taken to hospital after suffering from ill-health in a Riyadh prison earlier this year. He subsequently had a stroke and fell into a coma in early April, according to rights groups including Amnesty International. “Dr al-Hamid was a fearless champion for human rights in Saudi Arabia,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East research director, said in a statement.

The Right Livelihood Foundation said al-Hamid was repeatedly denied crucial medical care and “paid the ultimate price for his convictions”. Ole von Uexkull, head of the foundation, blamed Saudi authorities for his death, saying that al-Hamid’s “unlawful imprisonment and inhumane treatment … led to his death“.

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: FIDH

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH): “COVID-19: States bear direct responsibility for the health of individuals in their custody” states a press release of 7 April 2020.

While the cases of COVID-19 are multiplying in prisons, detention centres and in places of custody, faced with the risk of a massive spread of the virus behind the walls, FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights) calls for urgent measures to be taken to preserve the health of detainees, and for the release of the most vulnerable, of those detained for minor crimes and on remand custody, and of those whose detention is contrary to international norms.
In times of crisis, governments have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable. Prison populations, confined to detention facilities that can easily become virus hotspots, are among those most vulnerable to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a particular risk where collective cells and overcrowding are the norm, where social distancing is impossible to achieve, where many detainees are awaiting trial, and where the prisons’ health services are unprepared.
Over the past weeks, throughout the countries and regions where the COVID-19 virus has spread, many prison inmates, staff and/or caregivers have tested positive for the virus. Hundreds of inmates with virus symptoms have been “confined”. Tensions in prisons have also increased in the context of the spread of the virus, in reaction to the overcrowding of prisons, to the lack of personal hygiene or health services, or to restrictions on visits —notably when those visits enabled adequate food supply-, or other activities.While every prison, detention centre and place of custody constitutes a potential epidemiological outbreak, the spread of the virus in places of detention will be inevitable unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate this risk.

Echoing concerns expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in its COVID-19 Statement of Principles, FIDH calls on governments to relieve congestion in prisons by releasing vast numbers of prisoners through various means, including temporary or early releases and amnesties; home detention and commutation of sentences.

Such measures should be consistent with States’ obligations under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (revised and adopted as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”) which detail measures aimed at ensuring adequate personal hygiene, health, and safety of prisoners.

We welcome the move by a number of countries, including Argentina, Chile, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Tunisia and Turkey to begin releasing prisoners in an effort to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the virus. These efforts however have been inconsistent with many of these countries’ human rights obligations and with international institutions’ recommendations.

In countries like China, Egypt, Iran or Turkey, where the policies of mass incarceration of journalists, whistle blowers, human rights defenders, political prisoners or of civilians taking part in demonstrations are in flagrant contradiction with international human rights norms, prison releases have not included these persons.

States should thus follow specific priorities for the releases, that are guided by the vulnerablity of the individual detained as well as the motives for his or her detention. As such, priority should be given to the elderly, to pregnant women and to children, to those with underlying health conditions, as well as to administrative detainees, to individuals detained for minor or non-violent offences, and to detainees awaiting trial. In addition, prisoners of conscience, prisoners detained for expressing their opinions, human rights defenders, whistleblowers, and undocumented migrant detainees should be immediately and unconditionally released.

Governments should also ensure that during the COVID-19 pandemic the human rights of all those who remain in detention are upheld. As such, measures adapting the conditions of detention, with regard to food, health, sanitation and quarantine measures, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the facilities, should be put in place, to guarantee decent living and health conditions for all detained persons.

Any restrictions imposed on detainees should be non-discriminatory, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and transparent. Measures should not, under any circumstances, justify absolute or solitary confinement. Confinement measures should enable confidential and through distance, meetings of inmates with their families, close companions and lawyers in a confidential manner, while respecting the WHO recommended physical distancing and handwashing protocols. Under the current COVID-19 circumstances, we also recommend that all detainees should have access to time outside of the confins of their cells and be able to utilise recreational spaces available.

Lastly, while States must be able to maintain order and security within prisons and detention centers, measures to prevent riots and restore security conditions in prisons should not empower authorities to resort to the excessive use of force.

Read more

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/covid-19-states-bear-direct-responsibility-for-the-health-of