Network of African National Human Rights Institutions

Commemoration of the Africa Pretrial Detention Day in the context of Covid-19

Statement from Gilbert Sebihogo, Executive Director, NANHRI

The risk of holding such high numbers of people in detention when social distancing in a critical practice in defeating Covid-19 may derail the war against the pandemic. As critical players, NHRIs have a mandate of supporting the States in fulfilling their human rights obligations at all times including this moment of a health emergency.

Even as the measures instituted to combat Covid-19 are implemented, we urge the NHRIs in collaboration with State agencies to ensure:

  1. No one is subjected to torture and other inhuman cruel and degrading treatment or punishment during these exceptional circumstances and emergencies threatening the continent;
  2. That measures taken to combat Covid-19 in places of detention adhere to the “Do no Harm and “Equivalent of Care “principles. It is important that there is transparent communication to all persons deprived of liberty, their families and the media concerning the measures being taken and the reasons for them;
  3. That national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) continue undertaking their mandates by also monitoring the implementation of the movement restriction measures. It is particularly important at this time that NPMs ensure effective measures are taken to reduce the possibility of detainees from being subjected to
    inhumane and degrading treatment;
  4. That as per the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, people in quarantine are not treated as criminal detainees;
  5. States to consider thoroughly screening and releasing petty offences pre-trial detainees unconditionally as one of the ways of decongesting these facilities;
  6. Alternative solutions to taking to custody of petty offenders be instituted such as warning and free police bond and bail to limit congestion in these already strained facilities.

Further, we recommend that those under quarantine are:

  • Treated at all times as free agents, except for the limitations necessarily placed upon them in accordance with the law and on the basis of scientific evidence for quarantine purposes;
  • Held in well-spaced facilities to permit internal freedom of movement and a range of purposive activities and also reduce possibility of community transmission;
  • Able to benefit from the fundamental safeguards against ill-treatment, including information of the reasons for their being quarantined, the right of access to independent medical advice, the right to legal assistance and the right to ensure that third parties are notified of their being in quarantine, in a manner consonant with their status and situation while in this de facto form of deprivation of liberty,
  • Not subjected to any form of marginalisation or discrimination, including once they have returned to the community;
  • Offered appropriate psychological support during and after their period of quarantine;

Gilbert Sebihogo
Executive Director, NANHRI

For more details contact

Gilbert Sebihogo
Robert Laban