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Coronavirus: Ombudswoman says those detained or confined must be treated fairly

Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides

Ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottidou on Monday submitted a document on the treatment of people who are imprisoned and otherwise confined in times of the coronavirus to the justice, health and labour ministers.

Confined persons include those in detention centres, psychiatric clinics, nursing homes as well as facilities where people are quarantined because they are infected with the virus.

“The precautionary measures taken should not lead to inhuman or degrading treatment of persons deprived of their liberty,” she warned before outlining 11 points aimed to safeguard the rights and well-being of confined persons as follows:

  1. The basic principle must be to take all possible measures to protect the health and safety of these persons. Taking such measures also contributes to maintaining the health and safety of staff.
  2. The guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the fight against pandemics, as well as national health and clinical guidelines in accordance with international standards, must be observed and fully implemented in all areas.
  3. The available personnel should be provided with professional support to protect the confined persons’ health and safety, as well as the necessary training.
  4. Any restrictive measures should be legal, necessary, proportionate, carried out with respect for human dignity and for a limited period of time. The restricted persons must receive complete information, in a language they understand, of any such measures.
  5. Coordinated efforts should be made by all competent authorities, where possible, to use alternative detention measures. Such an approach is imperative, especially in cases of overpopulation. In addition, the authorities should make greater use of alternatives in relation to administrative detention, reduction/mitigation or suspension of the sentence and early release. The need to continue involuntary placement of psychiatric patients should be considered, and the release of people in nursing homes and immigrant detention centres.
  6. Special attention should be paid to the special needs of prisoners and vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions. In addition, detainees should receive additional psychological support from staff during this period.
  7. Fundamental rights such as the right to adequate personal hygiene and the right to be outside for at least an hour daily have to be respected.
  8. In cases of isolation or placement in a quarantine of an infected person who has been infected or suspected of being infected with the Covid-19 virus, daily contact with other people must be arranged.
  9. Access to a lawyer and a doctor must be fully guaranteed at any time.
  10. Monitoring by independent bodies remains a key guarantee against abuse. The government should continue to guarantee access to monitoring in facilities.
  11. It is expected from the competent authorities of the state to take into account the above measures and to implement them, as far as possible, not only in the central prisons, but also in all detention centres, nursing homes and other places where people are confined.

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