As the threat of this global pandemic rises, so too does the threat to some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, including the millions of people held in jails and prisons around the world. In times like these, our communities are most in need of strong legal advocates, and we at the ILF intend to be there.
In times of crisis, detainees are particularly at risk. In our global struggle to contain this virus, we must not sacrifice our commitment to justice by allowing these men, women, and children to be forgotten.
The ILF has two decades of experience advocating for detainees impacted by infectious diseases, natural disasters and conflict. We have defended our clients in the face of disasters like the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, during which we advocated for detainees to be removed from damaged detention centers. In 2016, we fought to get detainees to safety as the Taliban were invading Helmand, Afghanistan, and we continue to defend clients in some of the most conflict-affected areas of the country. Now, we are mobilizing to defend our clients’ rights in the face of a global pandemic.
Without a doubt, we all must take precautions to ensure the health and safety of our communities. However, even well-intentioned actions like closing courthouses can threaten the basic rights of people in detention—including the right to liberty, the right to a fair and speedy trial, and the right to health, given limited access to hygiene items and medical care. Meanwhile, there are solutions to limit the spread of infection while also upholding the human rights we all value. An effective approach during the Ebola outbreak included the release of pretrial detainees and people who weren’t a danger to society. Governments should be taking similar steps during the current crisis.
In this rapidly evolving environment, we are remaining vigilant to changes that impact vulnerable, detained populations.
We are in discussion with our teams on the ground in Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Palestine, and Tunisia to understand the specific challenges they and their clients are facing. We will do everything in our power to safeguard human rights and ensure due process in coordination with justice stakeholders.
The health and safety of our incredible frontline staff and volunteers is our top priority. We are taking appropriate precautions, but we will continue to be fierce advocates for justice.