Defending Justice in Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the world’s most vulnerable populations, including millions of people held in jails and prisons around the world.
Our COVID-19 Response
High-level Advocacy: We are calling on all levels of government to take urgent action to reduce prison populations and working with global coalitions and UN partners to provide technical advice.
In Afghanistan, shortly after our urgent call to action, the President issued a wide-reaching amnesty decree in line with our recommendations. You can find an unofficial English translation of the decree here.
In Myanmar, following our recommendations sent in collaboration with other local legal aid organizations, the President expanded his traditional New Year amnesty decree to cover nearly 25,000 people.
We joined UNICEF and the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action to craft guidance on key actions authorities can take to protect children deprived of their liberty during the pandemic.
Implementation: Our work does not end with an amnesty decree or mass release decision. These are just words on paper until people actually walk out of detention centers and prisons.
Following the President’s amnesty decree in Afghanistan, the Attorney General’s Office issued detailed guidance that has been critical to the swift and safe release of eligible people. We are working closely with the AGO and the Ministry of Justice to ensure the decree’s swift implementation.
In Palestine, President Mahmoud Abbas swiftly signed a general amnesty for prisoners who have served half of their sentences in all but the gravest offenses. We called jails and prisons, sorted though case files, and worked closely with the Attorney General’s Office to track down names and ensure eligible people could actually be released.
In Myanmar, we leveraged the president's amnesty decree to secure the release of more than 100 people from ethnic and religious minority communities who were arrested for not having proper identification documents.
Strategic Litigation & Petitions for Mass Release: COVID-19 is causing court closures and case delays. To fast-track getting people home, we are taking cases to Supreme Courts to set new precedents for release and filing mass release motions for vulnerable groups like women, children, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions.
On March 25, 2020, Nepal’s Supreme Court suspended remand and jail/bail hearings due to COVID-19. Our partners at PDS-Nepal filed a writ of habeas corpus for a client who remained illegally detained, emphasizing the right to be heard on the essential issue of detention. The Supreme Court freed our client and shortly thereafter announced they would renew remand and jail/bail hearings and allow interlocutory appeals of these decisions.
In Nepal, our partners at PDS-Nepal won a Supreme Court decision on April 26, 2020 underscoring that in order to protect children’s rights to life and health, juveniles in correctional facilities must be eligible for resentencing and release to parental custody. The Court reminded the justice sector that “it shall be the responsibility of everyone to instantly help children whose lives are at risk.” Read more here.
Guidance for Legal Aid Providers to Protect Health and Human Rights of Detainees:
Letter to Relevant Afghan Authorities on COVID-19 Justice Sector Response:
Letter to the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar:
Letter to the President of the Republic of Tunisia:
Letter to the Minister of Justice and the President of the Supreme Judicial Council in Tunisia:
Appeal from Human Rights Groups and Legal Aid Providers to Protect At-Risk Detainees in Nepal:
The ILF will continue to serve as a resource for the international legal aid community. If you have questions about these resources or COVID-19 responses in the justice sector, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fighting Case by Case: We continue to fight for the release of our clients on a case-by-case basis. We are filing release motions daily, prioritizing our clients who are most vulnerable to infection.
In Tunisia, Nepal, and Afghanistan, we are some of the only lawyers still providing criminal defense services during the pandemic. In just one week, we took more than 100 new cases in Kabul, Afghanistan.