Overcrowded and unhygienic detention settings are a perfect breeding ground for the Covid-19 pandemic. As persons deprived of liberty were quickly identified as one of the most vulnerable groups affected by the virus, the OMCT published in April a guidance brief to the SOS-Torture Network. “Building our response on COVID-19 and detention” provided evidence-based support and good practices for the protection of detainees, prison staff, and the wider society.
Along with the Litigators' Group in Africa, the OMCT published a report on the prisons in Central and West Africa, calling for the adoption of urgent measures at the judicial and institutional levels to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 spreading in overcrowded prisons with inhuman detention conditions. In a similar effort, the OMCT, together with the members of the Latin America Litigators’ Group, published the report “Covid-19 and detention”, pointing out the need to undertake structural prison reforms to address deeply rooted human rights concerns in detention that have been further exacerbated by the pandemic.
Raising awareness with prisoners and prison staff
In Tunisia, the OMCT advocated for the lowering of dangerously high levels of prison overcrowding. In cooperation with the prison administration and its partner organisation Psychologues du Monde Tunisie, the OMCT produced a video (in Arabic) to sensitise both prisoners and prison staff to Covid-19. Some 17,000 inmates, as well as staff in 28 prisons and five juvenile detention centres saw the 10-minute film featuring a well-known Tunisian actor. The OMCT also supported the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture (INPT) for the creation of a centre dedicated to training, researching, and documenting torture, which opened at the end of 2020.
Early release of prisoners to avoid overcrowded jails
The OMCT and the members of its SOS-Torture Network were instrumental in promoting and protecting the rights of persons deprived of liberty, in particular the right to health and the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment in pandemic times. This included promoting the adoption of early release of prisoners and other non-custodial measures in many countries, including Argentina, Togo, and the Philippines. In Europe too, the OMCT participated in exchanges of views on Covid-19 and detention, both with the Council of Europe and during a webinar with members of the European Parliament.
In response to Covid-19 related restrictions to accessing detention settings, the OMCT and its members developed alternatives, as needed, to continue exercising their monitoring role.
The pandemic has also made the arbitrary detention of those peacefully defending justice and our common freedoms more salient. For details, see the chapter on human rights defenders.
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