Monkeypox: It is urgent to learn lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic in places of detention


News release

Geneva, 26 September 2022

As the first monkeypox cases have been confirmed behind bars, particularly in the U.S., governments need to ensure that the human rights of detainees are front and centre of prevention, treatment and mitigation strategies, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) said today in a new Monkeypox briefing.

“Human rights standards took a backseat as governments fought and continue fighting the propagation of the Covid-19 virus in places of detention, with devastating consequences on the lives of persons deprived of liberty and their families”, said Helena Solà Martín, senior legal policy adviser at the OMCT. “It is urgent to learn and apply the lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic to respond to the monkeypox health emergency”.

Approximately two million people are deprived of liberty in U.S. prisons, jails and other places of detention - including juvenile correction facilities, immigration detention facilities and psychiatric hospitals. Over 11 million people are held in penal institutions across the world. High rates of overcrowding and inadequate cleaning and ventilation dramatically increase the risk of outbreaks in places of detention, considering that monkeypox is transmitted via skin-to-skin and skin-body fluid contact, that is, close physical contact.

Along with promoting alternatives to detention, it is crucial to address a major challenge identified during the Covid-19 pandemic: the lack of transparency and access to information for detainees, their relatives and the public in general.

Prisons should stop being a black box from which little information emerges, even more importantly now that another dangerous and contagious virus is circulating. Communication based on facts and scientific evidence is crucial to avoid stigmatising populations or groups most affected and to allow the best-informed behaviours.

With an isolation period that may last two to four weeks, detention authorities must guarantee respect for the rights of detainees under medical isolation. An excessive and prolonged use of medical isolation and quarantine measures during the Covid-19 pandemic, often reaching the levels of solitary confinement, which can amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, should be prevented by all means in the context of the monkeypox emergency.

In the briefing published today, the OMCT sets out basic general principles, draws on best practices, and provides recommendations to States and civil society. The briefing builds on the expert input and orientation provided by the OMCT Covid-19 Crisis Action Group*.

* The OMCT Crisis Action Group is an advisory body composed of eminent experts in the detention, prevention of torture, criminal justice system, health, child rights, women's rights and human rights defenders fields. For more information, read our Guidance Notes Covid-19 and detention: Impacts, lessons and urgent actions.

Read the full briefing here.

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

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