The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Wednesday called on governments to take emergency measures to protect the health and safety of people in detention and other centers closed, as part of overall efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thursday, March 26, 2020 ((rezonodwes.com)) – “Covid-19 has started hitting prisons, remand centers and immigration detention centers, as well as residential care centers and psychiatric hospitals, and risks wreaking havoc on extremely vulnerable populations within these institutions, “said Ms. Bachelet in a press release.  “In many countries, detention centers are overcrowded, and even pose a danger in some cases. People are often detained in poor hygienic conditions and health services are insufficient or even non-existent. Physical removal and isolation are practically impossible under such conditions, “she added.
The High Commissioner notes that governments face enormous resource demands during this crisis and are made to make difficult decisions.
“Nevertheless, I urge them not to forget the incarcerated, or those confined to centers such as closed mental health facilities, retirement homes or orphanages, because neglecting them could have catastrophic consequences, ”she said. “It is vital that governments take into account the situation of detained persons in their crisis action plan, so as to protect detainees, staff, visitors and of course society as a whole”.
Increasing number of deaths reported in prisons
According to Ms. Bachelet, faced with the outbreak of the disease and the increasing number of deaths already reported in prisons and other centers in more and more countries, the authorities should act now to prevent further loss of life among detainees and staff.
The High Commissioner urged governments and relevant authorities to work quickly to reduce the number of people in detention, noting that several countries have already undertaken positive actions. Authorities should consider ways to release those particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, including older and sick detainees, as well as low risk offenders. They should also continue to meet the specific health needs of detained women, including pregnant women, as well as those of disabled detainees and minors.
“Today more than ever, governments should release anyone detained without foundation sufficient legal authority, including political prisoners and those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting opinions, “said Ms. Bachelet.
Once released, these people should undergo a medical examination and measures should be taken to ensure that they receive the necessary care and follow-up, including medical follow-up.
“Under international human rights law, States must take the necessary measures to prevent foreseeable threats to public health and must ensure that anyone requiring essential medical care s can receive them, “said the High Commissioner.
Duty to protect the physical and mental health of detainees
With regard to persons in detention, the State has a duty to protect physical and mental health as well as the welfare of prisoners, as set out in the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules).
Actions taken during a health crisis should not be allowed to affect the human rights of detained persons, including their rights to water and adequate food. Safeguards against ill-treatment of persons in police custody, including access to a lawyer and a doctor, should also be fully respected.
“Restrictions on visits to closed centers may be necessary to help prevent Covid-19 outbreaks, but these measures must be introduced transparently and clearly communicated to those affected. The sudden cessation of contacts with the outside world risks worsening already tense, difficult and potentially dangerous situations, “she warned. She took as examples several measures taken in some countries, such as the more widespread use of videoconferencing systems, the increase in telephone calls with family members and the authorization of e-mail.
“The Covid-19 represents a huge challenge for society as a whole, as governments take steps to enforce physical remoteness. It is essential that such measures are followed, but I am deeply concerned that some countries are threatening to impose prison sentences for those who do not comply with them. This may exacerbate the already tense situation in prisons and have only limited effects on the spread of the disease, “warned Bachelet. “Imprisonment should be a measure of last resort, especially during this crisis.”