Urgent action needed to prevent COVID-19 in detention facilities – UN Human Rights

“Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views.”

March 26, 2020

MANILA — United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged governments to take immediate actions to prevent COVID-19 devastating the health of people in detention and other closed facilities, as part of the global efforts to contain the pandemic.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that there are already 414,179 COVID-19 cases and 18,440 COVID-related deaths globally in the last 24 hours. Included in these numbers, according to Bachelet, are those belonging to the most vulnerable populations such as strike prisons, jails and immigration detentions centers.

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” Bachelet said in a statement released yesterday.

“Governments are facing huge demands on resources in this crisis and are having to take difficult decisions. But I urge them not to forget those behind bars, or those confined in places such as closed mental health facilities, nursing homes and orphanages, because the consequences of neglecting them are potentially catastrophic,” the High Commissioner said.

According to Bachelet, authorities should examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders. They should also continue to provide for the specific health-care requirements of women prisoners, including those who are pregnant, as well as those of inmates with disabilities and of juvenile detainees.

“Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views,” Bachelet stressed.

This sentiment is echoed by KAPATID, a support group of families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines. In a statement, KAPATID has reported that a political prisoner at the Metro Manila District Jail-Annex 4 in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig Cty has fallen ill with fever.

“We urgently appeal to the Philippine government to promptly heed the call of the United Nations which other countries like Iran and the US have already started to do to save as many lives as humanely possible from the uncontrollable spread of Covid-19”, KAPATID Spokesperson Fides Lim said.

The group presses the immediate release of the elderly, the sick and the pregnant who are most at risk; those with low-level offenses; those already due for parole; those due for release which was interrupted by quarantine regulations; and the wife in the case of political prisoner couples to allow one spouse to care for the other in prison. They also call on prison authorities in the Philippines to start mass testing for Covid-19, to put up quarantine areas, and upgrade medical aid for the most vulnerable prisoners.

“Prisons are porous. No lockdowns, No reassurances of government officials that prisons are “100% safe” and that the prisoners are “safer” under their care will prevent the deadly virus from unleashing a pandemic inside jails. Stop dreaming. Do your job. Save lives”, Lim ended.


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