By Susan Kendi
Detainees who have served at least two-thirds of their
sentence should be released early in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19)
Lawyers who work as defence counsel before
international criminal tribunals have appealed to the President of the United
Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) to use
existing legal provisions to offer prisoners this relief.
In a March 27, 2020 media statement, the Association
of Defence Counsel practicing before the international courts and tribunals
(ADC-ICT) argued that the existing legal system of the International Criminal
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
and IRMCT, an individual who has served two thirds of his or her sentence can
apply for early release.
Additionally, the lawyers urged individuals who had
not served two-thirds of their sentence be granted provisional release, meaning
that they could return to the detention facility once the registry reports that
it is safe to do so.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has
separately asked governments to reduce the number of detainees by releasing
those most vulnerable to the viral disease — particularly the old, sick and
low risk offenders.
“In many countries, detention facilities are
overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic
conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical
distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically
impossible…Imprisonment should be a measure of last resort, particularly during
this crisis,” said Bachelet.
She added that the basic rights of the detained people
including access to legal and medical services should be respected.
“Restrictions on visits to closed institutions may be
required to help prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, but such steps need to be
introduced in a transparent way and communicated clearly to those affected.
Suddenly halting contact with the outside world risks aggravating what may be
tense, difficult and potentially dangerous situations… Examples of alternative
measures taken in some countries, such as setting up expanded
videoconferencing, allowing increased phone calls with family members and
permitting email,” she said.
According to the Center for Systems Science and
Engineering at Johns Hopkins University (CSSE) Thursday tally, United States of
America is leading with 82,400 cases followed by China with 81,782 cases and
Italy had 80,589. China was the first country to report the pneumonia-like
disease on December 2019.
More than 20,000 people have died from COVID-19, over
500,000 infected and more than 100,000 recovered in at least 170 countries
across the world.
The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a
pandemic on March 11, 2020 stating that it was a universal health emergency
with the worrying levels of its spread and severity.