GENEVA (1 July 2021) — The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) has called on States to ensure that people deprived of liberty are included in national vaccination programmes against COVID-19, and to continue efforts to tackle overcrowding in detention
The SPT has published its Follow-up COVID Advice after receiving information from 49 out of the 90 States 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 actions to continue reducing prison populations, through, for example, maintaining non-custodial measures schemes for people convicted of non-violent crimes and who had served a significant part of their sentences, pregnant detainees and those incarcerated with their children.
The SPT, however, stressed that further measures have to be taken to reduce the long-term negative impacts of the pandemic on people deprived of their liberty and to prevent torture and ill-treatment.
“It is not possible to predict how long the pandemic will last, or what ‘new normal’ in the post-pandemic world will be. It is, however, clear that places such as prisons, closed refugee camps and immigration detention centres cannot return to the ‘previous normal’ with overcrowding, lack of medical care, substandard hygiene and other entrenched problems,” said Suzanne Jabbour, the SPT Chairperson.
As well as ensuring vaccinations progammes cover people deprived of their liberty, the Subcommittee urged State parties to continue improving hygiene conditions and accessibility of health care in places of detention and to pursue such as early release and parole as part of efforts to reduce the prison population.
The SPT recommended that States parties take action to ensure that people deprived of their liberty whose mental health has been affected by COVID-19 – among them are people in quarantine, in medical isolation units, in psychiatric hospitals – receive adequate counselling 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.
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The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture monitors States parties’ adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which to date has been ratified by 90 countries. The Subcommittee is made up of 25 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Subcommittee has a mandate to undertake visits to States parties, during the course of which it may visit any place where persons may be deprived of their liberty.