Human rights experts call for immediate release of political prisoners and detainees in Yemen given risk of spread of COVID-19

BEIRUT/GENEVA, 30 March 2020 – The Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, today expressed their deep concern about the potential risks of the spread of COVID-19 among detainees and prisoners in Yemen.

COVID-19 is one of the most challenging global pandemics to have faced humanity in contemporary history. The unprecedented scale of the pandemic is compelling swift preventative action globally. In Yemen, which was considered prior to the war as one of the least developed countries in the world, authorities are required to take equally swift measures to release detainees and political prisoners from overcrowded prisons and detention facilities across the country, said the Group of Experts.

Prisoners and detainees in Yemen are particularly vulnerable and exposed to substantial risk if the COVID-19 virus was to emerge in prisons and other detention facilities, due to the appalling detention conditions that the Group of Experts’ investigative findings had revealed in its latest Report (A/HRC/42/17) submitted to the Human Rights Council in September 2019.

The availability of medical services in Yemen has been profoundly affected by the ongoing conflict. Despite the Group of Experts’ reiterated appeals, the health system in Yemen is on the brink of collapse, health facilities have been destroyed and health workers have been targeted by the warring parties, stated the Group of Experts.

Similarly, the lack of adequate food, the minimum standards of hygiene and health care for detainees, who are often in poor health due to the violence they have endured, is pervasive. Necessary physical distancing and self-isolation will be impossible in such overcrowded facilities thereby allowing the virus to rapidly spread in the event it appears. These conditions, which gravely contravene international law standards regarding the right to adequate health, are exposing detainees to a high risk of death in case of COVID-19 infection.

The Group of Experts urges all parties to the conflict in Yemen to immediately release all detainees and political prisoners being held in political, security and military detention facilities, official and secret alike, in order to prevent and mitigate the risks of COVID-19 contagion in the whole of Yemen, in line with their obligations under the International Law.

The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen are: Mr. Kamel Jendoubi (Tunisia), (Chairperson), Ms. Melissa Parke (Australia) and Mr. Ardi Imseis (Canada)

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