UN calls for global ban on solitary confinement

By Andrea Warmington

At Guantanamo Bay, detainees were returned to isolation after very short breaks over a period of 18 months, according to the UN. Photo / AP
At Guantanamo Bay, detainees were returned to isolation after very short breaks over a period of 18 months, according to the UN. Photo / AP

The United Nations has called for a global ban on solitary confinement, highlighting America's torture practices.

"Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit... whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique," UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez told the General Assembly.

"Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system."

Méndez noted that in the United States an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 individuals are being held in isolation.

He said the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement has increased, especially in the "war on terror'' and in dealing with threats to national security.

At the US terrorist detention centre in Guantanamo Bay experts found that although 30 days of isolation was the maximum period permissible, some detainees were returned to isolation after very short breaks over a period of 18 months, while two prisoners are reported to have been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana, US, for 40 years after attempts for a judicial appeal of their conditions failed.

Méndez said he had been following the case of US soldier Bradley Manning, detained in connection with his alleged leaking of secret cables to the WikiLeaks website. Manning was transferred to a Kansas military prison in April after being confined alone in a cell for 23 hours a day in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, for eight months after his arrest.

Méndez emphasised that indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition, citing scientific studies that have established that some lasting mental damage is caused after a few days of social isolation.

"Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles," he said.

"In the exceptional circumstances in which its use is legitimate, procedural safeguards must be followed. I urge States to apply a set of guiding principles when using solitary confinement."

- Herald Online

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