March 24, 2020

The spread of COVID-19 requires urgent and immediate measures to be taken to protect the rights of detainees in Africa

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Joint statement

Adressed to the member states of the African Union and to human rights international organisations in Africa

While, in the past 10 days, Europe has become the new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, which first affected China before spreading to the rest of the world, African countries are preparing to face an increase in the number of cases, now considered unavoidable by the WHO. As of Wednsday 25 March, there were more than 2000 cases across the continent, including 275 deaths. A rapid increase in the curve of recorded cases is now inevitable and guidelines have been issued by governments to control the spread of the virus. This is, of course, to be acknowledged. In all the countries overwhelmed with the new Coronavirus, the most vulnerable categories of the population are also the most at risk of the virus. In addition to people over 65 years old who are the age group at risk, socially and economically vulnerable people bear the brunt of any shortcomings in the health and social protection systems. This is particularly the case for detainees and migrants in detention or containment. Indeed, according to the scientific community, prisons and centres for illegal immigrants represent an increased risk, not only because the virus spreads faster in a confined, often poorly ventilated and unsanitary place, but also because pre-existing medical conditions compromise the health of detainees. In fact, infectious diseases circulate in greater proportions within the prison population (S. Kinner & al., Lancet, 2020). While it can be expected that, because of the wide disparity in medical and prison systems and infrastructures in different African countries, the levels of exposure to the health crisis are likely to vary across countries, the issue of prisons is currently too largely ignored in the African context, despite the fact that prisoners are high-risk places for transmission. Currently, the only initiatives taken to reduce the spread of the virus in prisons are often limited to prohibiting visits by family and friends and getting rid of community activities. Such measures give rise to several observations: While the signatories of this report do not in themselves dispute the need for greater control over communication between the prisoners and their relatives in order to protect them, they stress that the rights of prisoners must be guaranteed and call for alternatives to be found: communication at a distance, behind glass or by videoconference, where possible. Above all, however, the signatories consider that such measures are only subsidiary to the need to sustainable and immediately reduce the prison population. The signatories therefor call on African governments to act immediately to protect the prison population and to fight structurally for the entire population by reducing prison pressure in the various countries:   They therefore recommend: In addition to measures aimed at reducing the prison population, the signatories demand that the authorities: Signatories NGOs et national actors NGOs et international actors Download the document
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