Urgent statement calling on Middle East and North Africa governments to protect the health of prisoners and detainees: at this time of global health crisis, it is vital to ensure optimum medical treatment of inmates and reduce prison populations
On March 24, 2020, HaMoked, together with 37 organizations from various countries (including PHR-Israel and Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights), joined a statement initiated by MENA Rights Group and TIMEP
concerning the global health emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. The organizations expressed grave concern over the situation of the vulnerable population of detainees and prisoners across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), both in countries that have taken positive steps to protect the general population and in countries with overstretched health systems and infrastructures, particularly those weakened by years of armed conflict.
The organization asserted that states must guarantee inmates’ basic right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Healthcare in prisons must meet the same standards as healthcare outside of them. This does not change during a pandemic. Restrictions, including on prison visits, imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, must abide by the principles of proportionality and transparency. Any measure, including prison releases, must be taken in accordance with clear and transparent criteria, without discrimination.
In light of the above, the organizations call on governments in the MENA region, among other things, to make known to the public their country-specific policies and guidelines in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in detention centers, prisons, and police stations; ensure sufficient and sustained access to healthcare and hygiene provision in prisons; reduce prison populations by ordering the immediate release of “low-risk” inmates, administrative detainees, elderly inmates, and individuals with serious underlying conditions; allow individuals serving probation to fulfill their probation in their homes.
Regarding individuals who remain in detention, steps must be taken to ensure their right to health is effectively upheld by being granted full access to medical care as required, including access to COVID-19 testing and treatment of the same standard as that of given to the general population. States must ensure inmates continue to enjoy their right to due process and their right not to experience delays that would render their detention arbitrary. If prison visits are suspended, inmates must be provided with means of communication and opportunities to access the outside world.
The organizations also called on the World Health Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross, and UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures mandate holders to issue public statements and guidance on this issue.