The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every aspect of society, but vulnerable groups who were already marginalized will likely bear the greatest burden.
In Honduras, the National Committee to Prevent Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (MNP-CONAPREV), one of IDLO’s partners, has presented a petition to the Supreme Court of Justice to protect at-risk prisoners from exposure to COVID-19.
The Habeas Corpus – a request to determine whether the imprisonment of certain categories of persons is lawful – asks the Court to consider for early release those who are particularly vulnerable. This category includes detainees suffering from chronic diseases (such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular illnesses), those over the age of 60 and people living with HIV/AIDS. The request was filed in March 2020 and accepted by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court on April 1, 2020.
In line with international recommendations, it argues that continued detention during the COVID-19 pandemic presents an immediate threat to prisoners’ lives considering their pre-existing conditions and proximity to others in a jail setting. It takes account of issues highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, who encouraged the relevant responsible bodies to increase efforts to avoid overcrowding of prisons.
IDLO’s technical support to justice institutions in the country paved the way for the MNP-CONAPREV to take action. IDLO has been providing support to the work of the MNP-CONAPREV in Honduras in promoting the rights of prisoners and detainees since 2015. In 2020, IDLO established a working group made up of court staff, prosecutors and representatives of the MNP-CONAPREV, the National Penitentiary Institute, the National Commission for Human Rights and the country office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The working group was tasked with designing a roadmap and guidelines to improve institutional coordination and strengthen access to justice for prisoners, aligned with international and regional human rights standards.
“In the past, the MNP-CONAPREV would have made general recommendations to increase protection for vulnerable prisoners. Now, by filing a request with the Supreme Court, it has taken direct action,” said Elena Incisa di Camerana, IDLO’s Regional Manager for Latin America and the Caribbean.
IDLO has also linked up Honduras’ National Penitentiary Institute with the Regional Penitentiary Academy based in the Dominican Republic, giving Honduras access to a network discussing prevention measures and effective prison management during the COVID-19 health crisis. Weekly virtual meetings are held to hear from international experts, exchange experiences and strengthen coordination among participating countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay.
In Honduras, IDLO’s continued technical assistance to justice institutions has resulted in a series of administrative recommendations and regulations for the National Penitentiary System, enhanced capacity of judges and staff of the criminal justice sector, progress in the implementation of rehabilitation and social reintegration measures, the creation of the first Center for social reintegration of former prisoners in the country, and increased institutional coordination that are helping to enhance preventive measures.
Image credit: Facebook_ Conaprev - Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención Honduras