As part of efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on governments on Wednesday to take “urgent action” to protect the health and safety of people in detention and other closed facilities.
Governments are facing huge demands on resources in this crisis and are having to take difficult decisions. But I urge them not to forget those behind bars, or those confined in places such as closed mental health facilities, nursing homes and orphanages, because the consequences of neglecting them are potentially catastrophic.
She urged governments to quickly reduce the number of people in detention and other closed facilities, stating that authorities should explore ways to release those particularly vulnerable to the virus. While detention centers should still provide for the specific healthcare requirements of inmates, they should also medically screen the people who are released and ensure that those people receive any further needed care and health monitoring after their releases.
Bachelet stressed that, even in the midst of a pandemic, the fundamental rights of detained individuals should not be undermined. Those in custody should still have access to lawyers and doctors as safeguards against mistreatment. She also expressed concern that some countries threatened to impose prison sentences for those who failed to practice social distancing, as she said it was likely to “exacerbate the grave situation in prisons and do little to halt the disease’s spread.”
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