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Covid-19: New report highlights efforts by lawyers and activists to expose abuses

News release

Geneva, 7 March 2022

As the world is entering its third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, detained persons still suffer great risks and a large number of restrictions on their rights. The global health emergency has laid bare systemic problems in detention facilities worldwide, such as overcrowding, inadequate health services, and poor living and sanitary conditions, says a report published today by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

At the same time, in response to the pandemic, many governments have introduced state of emergency regulations and exceptional measures that do not comply with international human rights law and standards. Human rights violations, including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment towards those breaching quarantine and lockdown directives have been commonplace. Pandemic-related emergency measures have also been, and continue being used, by some governments to further restrict the work of civil society and human rights defenders.

The report published today brings to light the crucial role played by human rights litigators, advocates and human rights organisations to protect the rights of persons deprived of liberty, help the victims and promote accountability for the abusive practices of law enforcement agencies in the context of the enforcement of pandemic-related public health restrictions.

The report, titled Challenging detention and torture in times of Covid-19, collects a large array of creative legal and advocacy strategies employed by lawyers and civil society organisations around the world.

Helena Solà Martín, OMCT senior legal policy adviser, notes that “thanks to efforts of civil society organisations, thousands of prisoners have been released from overcrowded detention facilities, States have been prevented from cracking down on human rights defenders under the pretext of public health, and abusive practices of law enforcement agencies during lockdowns have been exposed, challenged, and in some cases reversed.”

Many of the strategies included were discussed in a series of regional and global Litigation Labs on Detention, Torture, and the Right to Defend in Times of Covid-19, held in November and December 2020, as well as during subsequent exchanges and meetings. Nearly 130 human rights litigators and advocates participated, including the members of the SOS-Torture Network Litigators’ Groups, an OMCT initiative launched in 2019.

The Labs, convened by the OMCT, the Open Society Justice Initiative, with the Collectif des Associations Contre l’Impunité au Togo (CACIT), the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), and the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (Frayba), were a unique opportunity to exchange experiences and discuss strategies and promising practices among peers at the height of the pandemic.

As Duru Yavan, legal associate with the Justice Initiative, points out, “this report shows that the efforts of lawyers and advocates created a window of opportunity to generate sustained change in the aftermath of the pandemic.”

A new post on the blog titled “Q&A: Safeguarding Human Rights in Detention and in Encounters with Law Enforcement during COVID-19” expands on the challenges and lessons learned through the insights of two human rights litigators from Argentina.

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the largest global NGO group actively standing up to torture and protecting human rights defenders worldwide. It has more than 200 members in 90 countries. Its international Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

For more information, please contact :
Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications
+41 79 539 41 06

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