Header image for news printout

Sanitation is a right for all, including for those in detention.

World Toilet Day 19 November 2009
“With 2.5 billion people worldwide without access to proper sanitation, which leads to 1.8 million deaths a year, access to sanitation itself is clearly a human rights issue," UN human rights experts on water and sanitation, health and on torture, said in a joint statement on the occasion of World Toilet Day, which is celebrated each year on 19 November. "States must ensure that everyone, including people in detention, have access to safe sanitation. Without it, detention conditions are inhumane, and contrary to the basic human dignity which underpins all human rights.”
“In too many places, detainees in prisons, migrant detention centers, juvenile institutions, psychiatric hospitals and other State-run institutions, are forgotten. The conditions of detention in these places are frequently dismal, including a complete lack of access to sanitation,” said Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
“Access to sanitation is fundamental for a life in dignity, which all people are entitled to. The State has a particular obligation to ensure fulfilment of this right for all those held in detention, whether legitimate or not. Even those convicted of heinous crimes must enjoy such basic rights,” said Catarina de Albuquerque, the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
“Unsanitary conditions, especially as a result of human contact with fecal matter, directly cause many diseases rife in places of detention," said Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health. "This denial of the right to health is as unacceptable as other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment.”
“In my country missions, I have witnessed the reality of lack of access to sanitation in detention facilities,” remarked Nowak. “People in detention are forced to defecate into plastic bags because there are no functioning toilets or latrines. In other cases, prisoners use buckets, which they must 'slop out' themselves every morning, with no opportunity to protect hygiene and cleanliness. In situations of overcrowding, which is all too often the case, people must defecate in front of other prisoners. It is impossible for detainees to maintain their dignity in such demeaning circumstances,” he added.
“People think that those held in detention are either criminals or political prisoners," the experts said. "In fact, most of the victims suffering these realities are ordinary people who belong to the poorest and most disadvantaged sectors of society, including children deprived of a family environment, persons with disabilities, people who use drugs, foreigners and members of ethnic and religious minorities or indigenous communities. International human rights law demands that all persons deprived of their liberty be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
The experts further noted that “sanitation itself is increasingly recognized as a human right, which should be enjoyed without discrimination, in all settings, including detention.”