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News > Colombia

UN Warns of COVID-19 Spread in the American Continent's Prisons

  • Inmates rioting in the Devoto prison, Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 24, 2020.

    Inmates rioting in the Devoto prison, Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 24, 2020. | Photo: EFE

Published 5 May 2020

The OHCHR asks to improve the prisons' conditions and wide access to diagnostic tests.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Tuesday warned that overcrowding and poor hygiene in prisons are facilitating the rapid spread of COVID-19.


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"Thousands of prisoners and prison officials have been infected in North and South America," the OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville said and warned of violence in some facilities.

In the past month, for example, nine inmates died in Peru's Miguel Castro jail and 23 inmates died in Colombia's La Modelo jail when security forces intervened to put down a riot. Other similar violent incidents have been reported in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, or the United States.

Some riots occurred after visits by prisoners' relatives were banned to prevent infection, sometimes depriving many inmates of their primary access to food.

"The seriousness of the incidents seems to show that sometimes States have not taken appropriate measures to prevent violence in these prison facilities. They have used excessive force to regain control of them," Colville said.

Human rights defenders called for this to launch impartial and complete investigations into this event. The spokesperson showed that, in some Latin American countries, people are being detained in violation of quarantine measures, which "increases the risk of infections."

The OHCHR asks States to improve the sanitary conditions of prisons, wide access to diagnostic tests, and allow at least a minimum of contact between inmates and their relatives.

Nevertheless, this UN agency welcomed the steps taken by some Latin American countries to release the most vulnerable prisoners, such as the chronically ill, the elderly, pregnant women, the disabled, or people living with HIV.​​​​​​​

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