The UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has urged States to ensure that people deprived of liberty are included in national vaccination programs against COVID-19 and to continue efforts to reduce overcrowding in prisons.
After receiving information from 49 of the 90 parties to the Optional Protocol on Prevention of Torture and 64 domestic torture monitoring bodies, officially known as National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), on what steps have been taken to reduce the impact of the pandemic on people deprived of their liberty.
These include measures to further reduce prison populations, such as maintaining non-custodial measures for people convicted of non-violent crimes who have served a significant part of their sentences, pregnant detainees, and parents incarcerated with children.
SPT, however, emphasized that further steps need to be taken to reduce the long-term negative effects of the pandemic on people deprived of their liberty and to prevent torture and ill-treatment.
“It is impossible to predict how long the pandemic will last or what a ‘new normal’ will be in the post-pandemic world. Nevertheless, it is clear that places like prisons, closed refugee camps, and immigration detention facilities cannot return to the ‘previous normal’ given overcrowding, poor medical care, substandard hygiene, and other issues,” said Suzanne Jabbour, SPT Chairperson.
As part of efforts to reduce the prison population, the Subcommittee urged State parties to expand vaccination programs to include people who are deprived of their liberty and to continue improving hygiene conditions and health care accessibility in places of detention.
It was recommended that States parties ensure that people deprived of their liberty whose mental health has been affected by COVID-19 – among them people in quarantine, medical isolation units, and psychiatric hospitals – receive adequate counseling and psychosocial support.
The UN torture prevention body, which conducted its latest session online in June, has also adopted a Protocol for National Protection Mechanisms to continue their on-site visits and monitory work during the pandemic to avoid any protection gap. The SPT decided to resume country visits as soon as the global health situation permits. Priority States to be visited later this year include Tunisia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, and Argentina.