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Prisoner Access To Sanitation Is A Human Right

Prisoner Access To Sanitation A Human Right, Say UN Experts On World Toilet Day

New York, Nov 19 2009 11:10AM The United Nations today marked World Toilet Day, stressing access to proper sanitation as a human right due to all, with a particular focus on “forgotten” prisoners and detainees in state institutions.

“With 2.5 billion people worldwide without access to proper sanitation, which leads to 1.8 million deaths a year, access to sanitation itself is clearly a human rights issue,” three UN human rights experts – on water and sanitation, health, and torture – said in a joint statement.

“States must ensure that everyone, including people in detention, have access to safe sanitation. Without it, detention conditions are inhumane, and contrary to the basic human dignity which underpins all human rights,” they added.

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Manfred Nowak, noted that in too many places detainees in prisons, migrant detention centers, juvenile institutions, psychiatric hospitals and other State-run institutions, are forgotten. “The conditions of detention in these places are frequently dismal, including a complete lack of access to sanitation,” he said.

Independent Expert on human rights related to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque called access to sanitation fundamental for a life in dignity to which all people are entitled. “The State has a particular obligation to ensure fulfillment of this right for all those held in detention, whether legitimate or not. Even those convicted of heinous crimes must enjoy such basic rights,” she said.

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Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, stressed that unsanitary conditions, especially human contact with fecal matter, directly cause many diseases rife in places of detention. “This denial of the right to health is as unacceptable as other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment,” he said.

Mr. Nowak noted that in his country visits he has found that detainees are forced to defecate into plastic bags due to lack of functioning toilets or latrines. In other cases, prisoners use buckets, which they must ‘slop out’ themselves every morning, with no opportunity to protect hygiene and cleanliness.

“In situations of overcrowding, which is all too often the case, people must defecate in front of other prisoners,” he said. “It is impossible for detainees to maintain their dignity in such demeaning circumstances.”

Although people think detainees are either criminals or political prisoners, most are ordinary people from the poorest, most disadvantaged sectors of society, including children deprived of a family environment, persons with disabilities, drug users, foreigners and members of ethnic and religious minorities or indigenous communities, the experts stressed.

“International human rights law demands that all persons deprived of their liberty be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” they said, noting that “sanitation itself is increasingly recognized as a human right, which should be enjoyed without discrimination, in all settings, including detention.”


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