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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa on the Release of Prisoners during the COVID-19 Pandemic


The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the Commission), through the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa (Special Rapporteur), Commissioner Maria Teresa Manuela, welcomes the release of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Special Rapporteur commends all State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter) that released persons deprived of their liberty in prisons and other places of detention during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to reduce the spread of the Corona Virus by way of decongesting prisons and other places of detention.

The Special Rapporteur is pleased to note that several States have already released prisoners in an attempt to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, such as the Republics of Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, the Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda.

The Special Rapporteur is also pleased to note the immediate emergency measures adopted by some States, such as the suspension of all public court hearings, the suspension of all prison visits, taking health and security measures to prevent/contain the spread of the Corona virus among prisoners, including prison sterilization and disinfection operations, among others.

The Special Rapporteur notes that these actions by States have demonstrated their commitment to the human rights ideals set out in the African Charter and other regional and international instruments, while adhering to and implementing the precautionary measures stipulated by the World Health Organization in an attempt to combat this pandemic.

The Special Rapporteur reminds States that persons deprived of their liberty run a higher risk of contracting the virus, with a limited possibility of containing it, mainly because detention centres in many countries are severely overcrowded, making social distancing and self-isolation almost impossible in these conditions, accompanied by inadequate hygiene and health services, among others.

In line with the Commission’s Declaration of 24 March 2020, on Effective Human Rights-Based Responses to the COVID-19 Virus in Africa, the Special Rapporteur therefore urges all African States to take appropriate measures with regards to prisons and other places of detention during this deadly pandemic.

Furthermore, as the fight against the virus intensifies in Africa, States that have not yet done so, are urged to emulate the measures taken by other States and to opt for appropriate emergency measures to reduce prison overcrowding; release persons convicted of minor offences, as well as detainees awaiting trial for minor offences and those who have been rehabilitated and pose limited risk to society, in order to reduce the spread of the Corona virus.

Accordingly, States are reminded to respect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty in accordance with Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, while adhering to and complying with the World Health Organization's Interim Guidelines on the Preparation, Prevention and Control of COVID-19 for prisons and other places of detention.

 

Banjul, 17 April 2020