Human Rights Commissioner Bärbel Kofler on the situation of prisoners in connection with Covid‑19

16.04.2020 - Press release

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (16 April) on the situation of prisoners in connection with Covid‑19:

Human rights obligations naturally continue to apply even during and in the fight against the Covid‑19 pandemic. In particular, vulnerable groups must not be forgotten, as the right to health obliges all countries to provide everyone with equal and non-discriminatory access to medical services, goods and facilities.

The state has particular duties to protect people in state care or in detention. The situation is precarious in many prisons around the world. Many people live in extremely close quarters, often in overcrowded cells. At the same time, medical facilities are often worse than in civilian hospitals. There is a lack of protective clothing and masks, but also of medical staff and capacities to transport patients to civilian hospitals.

I thus call urgently on all those in positions of responsibility to take seriously the warnings by international organisations such as WHO, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well as civil‑society initiatives such as the European Prison Litigation Network. In addition to the joint recommendations by WHO and OHCHR, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture have published important recommendations on protecting prisoners in connection with Covid‑19.

The suggested measures, such as releasing selected convicted persons on probation, should be implemented wherever possible in order to prevent an uncontrolled spread of the virus in prisons. It must also be ensured that people in detention and their relatives are reliably informed about the measures taken.

And finally, I call on governments worldwide to release all political prisoners immediately.


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