Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 3 April 2020
One of the countries where the risk of mass infections in prisons is extremely high and which has yet to take any such action is Syria, where the situation in all official prisons and makeshift detention facilities is alarming -- and particularly so in the overcrowded central prisons, and in the detention facilities run by the four Government security branches, and in the Sednaya military prison. Even before the onset of COVID-19, we have received a significant number of reports of deaths in the facilities run by the four security branches and in Sednaya, including as a result of torture and denial of medical care.
Vulnerable groups detained in Syria include elderly people, women and children, and many people with underlying health conditions, some of them directly as a result of the ill-treatment and neglect they have experienced while in detention.
Although smaller in scale, we have similar concerns about the risk to people detained in overcrowded and unhygienic facilities run by non-State armed groups in the north-west, north and east of the country.
We take note of the recent legislative amnesty decree issued by the Government of Syria on 22 March, granting an amnesty for some crimes and for military deserters, as well as sentence reductions for juveniles and other detainees.
We urge the Syrian Government and the armed groups to take urgent action -- following the example of other countries -- to release sufficient numbers of dainees to prevent COVID-19 leading to yet more loss of life and misery after nine years of unrelenting death, destruction of the health system and displacement. We also call on all parties to allow humanitarian actors and medical teams unhindered access to prisons and other places of detention to check the conditions under which the detainees live and asses their needs
Also in relation to COVID-19, we urge that those sanctions which are currently impeding the supply of medicines and medical equipment to any part of Syria be eased or suspended during the course of this pandemic. If left in place unaltered, they will hamper the quick and effective healthcare response needed to prevent or contain the spread of the coronavirus, and could therefore contribute to significant loss of life.
We are also concerned that parties to the conflict in Syria are continuing to use essential services such as access to water and electricity as a weapon, and in doing so endanger the lives of large populations at a time when access to water and sanitation are more important than ever to help people protect themselves against COVID-19.
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