World leaders urged to ban solitary confinement

SACC Press Release Saturday 10 December 2011

On International Human Rights Day, rights group calls for a ban on solitary confinement and prisoner isolation

On International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2011, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) is asking world leaders to take action to ban the long-term solitary confinement and isolation of prisoners. The call for action is supported by intellectuals of international standing, legal practitioners, human rights experts, experts on penal policy, and current and former prisoners.

In October, Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, told the UN General Assembly that even short-term solitary confinement can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and that there should be an absolute ban on long-term or indefinite solitary confinement. He proposed a limit of 15 days solitary confinement and urged States to "prohibit the imposition of solitary confinement as punishment."

Now SACC is asking the Governments of 6 key countries - Britain, the USA, France, Germany, Turkey and Australia - to consider introducing domestic legislation that would give effect to the Special Rapporteur's proposals.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"Prisoner isolation has for far too long been the elephant in the sitting-room of international human rights policy. It should be obvious to anyone that locking a person up for months or years without meaningful human contact is cruel, inhuman and degrading and is therefore prohibited under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Prison authorities around the world unfortunately seem not to understand this. That's why we need domestic legislation, in every country in the world, that leaves no room for doubt. As a first step, we are asking the governments of Britain, the USA, France, Germany, Turkey and Australia to tell us what they intend to do."

SACC has sent the leaders of each of the 6 countries a copy of a public statement - launched exactly a year ago on the StopIsolation website - saying that "enforced long-term isolation in all circumstances breaches Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states 'no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment' and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that 'no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.'"

The StopIsolation statement calls on the countries of the world to:

"enact legislation that prohibits long-term prisoner isolation, and prohibits the transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of such treatment."

Supporters of the statement include former United Nations Special Rapporteur against Torture Theo van Boven, US academic Noam Chomsky, US author and poet Alice Walker, former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, former prisoners Paddy Hill and Gerry Conlon (wrongly convicted over IRA bombings in England), former Beirut hostage Terry Waite, lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, barrister Michael Mansfield QC, Emeritus Professor David Brown (University of New South Wales, Australia), US prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, and Secretary General of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights Thomas Schmidt.

The letter sent by SACC to President Obama, besides drawing the President's attention to the StopIsolation statement, also highlights the concerns expressd by Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez about the isolation of Bradley Manning, and to the recent mass hunger strike of prisoners in California state prisons, called partly in protest at the use of isoaltion in those prisons. The letter sent to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey highlights "the renewed isolation of Abdullah Ocalan, which follows the collectiv isolation of Abdullah Ocalan and five other prisoners in the period prior to August 2011, and Abdullah Ocalan's earlier total isolation in the period 1999-2009"

Notes for Editors

  1. StopIsolation is an independent initiative by members of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), supported by SACC, the Campaign against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC), the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, the Justice for Aafia Coalition and the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign. The initiative is intended to promote international recognition that long-term solitary confinement and other forms of enforced long-term isolation of prisoners are cruel and inhuman and are forms of torture; encourage countries to prohibit long-term solitary confinement and enforced isolation; encourage countries to prohibit the transfer of prisoners to places where they would be at risk of such treatment; encourage people to collaborate internationally to achieve these ends.
  2. The report of Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez, dated 5 August 2011 and presented to the UN General Assembly on 18 October, can be viewed at
    http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/445/70/PDF/N1144570.pdf

    In presenting his report to the General Assembly, Juan Mendez said "Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit (SHU)… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique." ( see www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11506&LangID=E )
  3. The StopIsolation statement calling for an end to prisoner isolation, as sent to world leaders to mark International Human Rights Day, can be viewed at
    www.stopisolation.org/en/docs/stopisolation_statement.pdf
  4. The letters sent by SACC to world leaders can be viewed as follows:-
  5. The StopIsolation statement calling for an end to prisoner isolation is still online and open for support at www.stopisolation.org
  6. Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) is a Scottish-based human rights group that campaigns for the repeal of Britain's terrorism. More information at www.sacc.org.uk