UN Agencies Urge Rulers to Keep Prisoners Safe from Coronavirus

Prison, Moldova, June 2014. Photo: UNAIDS Photographer D.Gutu
Prison, Moldova, June 2014. Photo: UNAIDS Photographer D.Gutu

Several UN agency chiefs on Wednesday (May 13) highlighted the increased vulnerability to COVID-19 of detainees, and others in confinement. They urged governments to take all appropriate public health measures to keep prisoners safe from the deadly disease.

They also emphasized the need to minimize the occurrence of the disease in these settings and to guarantee that adequate preventive measures are in place to ensure a gender-responsive approach and preventing large outbreaks of COVID-19.

[ Governments Must Not Use COVID-19 for Arbitrary Detention: UN Experts ]

The heads of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Health Organization (WHO), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN agency leading the fight against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said in a signed statement.

UNODC’s Ghada Fathi Waly; WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; Winnie Byanyima of UNAIDS; and High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, also emphasized the need to establish an up-to-date coordination system that brings together health and justice sectors, keeps prison staff well-informed and guarantees that all human rights in these settings are respected.

[ India Using COVID-19 Pandemic to Violate Human Rights: Amnesty ]

They also pushed for the release of non-violent detainees as well as for those at high-risk, such as the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions and advocated for increased hygiene to prevent or limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, a UNAIDS report reveals that more than 11 million people are in custody worldwide while 30 million people enter and leave detention every year. Under these circumstances, according to the report, the threat of COVID-19 for people in prisons is very real.

In the vast majority of the world’s overcrowded and underfunded prisons and detention centers, physical distancing is simply not an option. In situations where close confinement, shared facilities, and spaces and poor hygiene are commonplace, inmates and prison staff are living in constant fear of the ticking COVID-19 time bomb.

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Rakesh Raman