On Human Rights Day, Public Figures Call for Worldwide Ban on Solitary Confinement and Prisoner Isolation

10.12.10

Public figures, intellectuals, former prisoners and human rights activists have today, Friday 10 December, issued a statement calling for an international ban on long-term solitary confinement and prisoner isolation.

Supporters of the statement include 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) and Richard Haley (Chair, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities).

10 December is International Human Rights Day and marks the anniversary of the proclamation in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The “Stop Isolation” statement says 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 statement has been published on a new website, “Stop Isolation,” which aims to encourage international collaboration to put an end to long-term solitary confinement.

Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Solitary confinement is one of the techniques used to ‘break’ prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.  Sadly I can testify that it has the sickening, desired impact, and has caused serious mental health problems for the people I represent.  We  should put these ugly human experiments behind us.”

David Brown (Emeritus Professor, University of NSW) said:

“Solitary confinement and other forms of isolation have been a feature of Australian prison systems since colonisation, whether as part of ‘secondary punishment’ or supposedly ‘reformatory’ regimes. Current use is starkest in high security and ‘supermax’ units … The historical lesson to be learnt from the various mutations of high security regimes utilising solitary confinement is that whether the aim is punishment or reform, the consequences include long term physical and mental damage, increased violence and brutalisation. In a perverse cycle such regimes produce madness, rage and violence through isolation and then cite this very madness, rage and violence as reasons such regimes are necessary. It is time to heed the historical lessons and break this cycle by ending isolation in favour of fostering social relationships and promoting  prisoners’ discursive citizenship and human rights.”

Richard Haley (Chair, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities) said:

“Solitary confinement is one of the elephants in the sitting room of international human rights law. It is so widespread in United States — where tens ot thousands of prisoners are held in isolation — that human rights defenders have sometimes been reluctant to say plainly that long-term isolation is always a human rights violation. The fate of prisoners across the world concerns us all because, as the Declaration of Human Rights reminds us, we are all members of the human family. And also because citizens of Europe may have to face years of solitary confinement if they are extradited to the United States. It’s time to outlaw solitary confinement and outlaw the transfer of prisoners to places where they would be at risk of solitary confinement.”

End Prisoner Isolation — The Full Statement

Jails around the world hold prisoners who have endured years of solitary confinement or other forms of isolation. The enforced long-term isolation of any person is a cruel and inhuman violation of their inalienable rights and needs as members of the human family. The long-term isolation of prisoners has to stop.

Scientific evidence shows that prisoners held in long-term isolation commonly suffer severe damage to their mental health. It should be self-evident that whether a prisoner manifests such damage or not, the suffering that he or she endures is torturous, cruel and inhuman. Few of us can properly imagine what such a prisoner goes through.

In the USA hundreds of prisoners are held in extreme isolation in the “supermax” prison known as Administrative Maximum, Florence, Colorado (“ADX Florence”), a federal prison. Tens of thousands more prisoners are held in extreme isolation in “supermax” State prisons and in special units at other facilities within the Federal and State prison systems. Many of these prisoners have been held in isolation for years; some have suffered isolation for decades.

Isolation in US prisons commonly involves solitary confinement with minimal human contact of any kind, even with prison staff. Prisoners are typically held in their cells for 23 hours a day. Exercise is typically taken in an isolated space outside the cell. Isolation can also mean the confinement of two prisoners in a single isolation cell — a situation potentially even worse than solitary confinement.

Prisoners in other jurisdictions around the world also suffer prolonged solitary confinement. A report published in October 2008 by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture named China, Denmark, Georgia, Indonesia, Jordan, Mongolia, Nigeria, Paraguay as well as the United States as giving cause for concern. In the same year, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern over prolonged isolation in “supermax” facilities in Australia. In 2009 the Committee expressed concern over the use of solitary confinement in Israeli prisons.

We believe that prolonged, enforced isolation is unjustifiable in any circumstances. It is unjustifiable whether it is imposed as a punishment, or to coerce information or a change of behaviour from the prisoner, or for any other purpose. It is unjustifiable whether it is imposed before trial or after conviction. It is unjustifiable whether of not it is imposed through legal process.

Long-term isolation is the antithesis of norms that have come to be accepted in much of Europe and in many other parts of the world. The drift away from these norms must be resisted.

Where, exceptionally, a prisoner cannot safely or beneficially be afforded the kinds of social interaction normal within humanely-run prisons, exceptional and effective steps must be taken to provide the prisoner with human contact that is clearly adequate in the interests of his or her human and psychological well-being.

We believe 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.”

We call upon 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.

Dungeons should not be tolerated in the 21st century.

Supporters (all in a personal capacity)

Clive Stafford-Smith (lawyer and director of Reprieve)
Frances Webber (barrister, London, UK)
Moazzam Begg (former Guantánamo prisoner, director of Cagepriosners, UK)
Noam Chomsky (Institute Professor & Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, MIT, USA) Alice Walker (author, USA)
Lord Anthony Gifford QC (barrister, Jamaica and UK)
Michael Mansfield QC (barrister, UK)
Daniel Machover (Chair of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights)
Frank Barat (Coordinator Russell Tribunal on Palestine)
Bill Bowring (barrister and Professor of Law, Birkbeck, University of London, UK)
Aamer Anwar (criminal defence lawyer, Glasgow, UK)
David Brown (Emeritus Professor, University of NSW, Sydney Australia)
Terry Waite CBE (former Beirut hostage, UK)
Omar Deghayes (former Guantánamo prisoner, UK)
Paddy Hill (Birmingham Six, UK)
Gerry Conlon (Guildford Four, UK)
Ronnie Kasrils (writer, activist and former government minister, South Africa)
Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Nobel Peace laureate 1976, Northern Ireland)
Cynthia McKinney, former member of the US Congress and 2008 presidential candidate, Green Party, USA)
John McManus (Miscarriages of Justice Organisation Scotland, UK)
Richard Haley (Scotand Against Criminalising Communities, UK)
Julia Davidson (Scotand Against Criminalising Communities, UK)
Desmond Fernandes (Genocide and prisoner isolation scholar, London, UK )
Estella Schmid (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, UK)
Saleh Mamon (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, UK)
Les Levidow (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities, UK)
Maryam Hassan (Justice for Aafia Coalition)
Pushkar Raj (General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, India)
Sharon Shalev (Solitary Confinement.org)
Jeffrey Ian Ross (Associate Professor, University of Baltimore, USA)
Hans Toch (Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University at Albany, State University of NY, USA)
Andy Worthington (journalist and author, UK)
Tam Dean Burn (cultural worker, Scotland, UK)
R. Hugh Drummond (Edinburgh, UK)
Adnan Siddiqui (a director of Cageprisoners, UK)
Arzu Merali (Islamic Human Rights Commission, UK)

For further information, please contact:

Richard Haley: 07936 432519 or by email.
Clive Stafford Smith: 020 7353 4640.
David Brown: by email.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

9 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention On Human Rights Day, Public Figures Call for Worldwide Ban on Solitary Confinement and Prisoner Isolation | Andy Worthington -- Topsy.com says...

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Nancy Kricorian. Nancy Kricorian said: Human Rights Day Call for World Ban on Solitary Confinement & Prisoner Isolation http://bit.ly/g78Uxp v @GuantanamoAndy [...]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Annabelle Parker wrote:

    Thank you for letting us know about this important issue.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Maria Concepcion Castro Fragueiro wrote:

    dugg and shared !

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Annabelle and Maria, for your support. I was very impressed by the statement, as it’s far too easy to overlook how, beyond places like Guantanamo, prisoners who have actually been tried and convicted are then punished with a lifetime of solitary confinement. Humanity’s cruelty sometimes knows no bounds …

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, thanks, very good point and a very appropriate theme for this year’s Human Rights Day. Re-posted. I commented that governments need little provocation to use the excuse to further curtail our rights. The current moves to censor the internet is a case in point. The price of free expression is the frequent and robust exercise of that right. Keep up the good work, please.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Anne Elliott wrote:

    It’s possible to drive a prisoner insane without laying a hand on them.The loneliness would be inexpressible.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Annabelle Parker wrote:

    Sometimes I am feeling powerless about solitary confinement and what can be done. But even writing letters helps a lot to break the isolation of one person. But the systematic prolonged isolating of prisoners and the locking down of prisons has to be addressed too. I hope politicians wake up and start seeing and listening. It is for this systematic isolating that this statement is a good initiative. Let´s hope those in power listen!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Willy, Anne and Annabelle, for your sympathy. Clearly, no one — either extra-judicially, or after a trial — should be held in such isolation. I’m really pleased that my friend Richard Haley in Edinburgh launched this initiative.
    And Willy, I’ll try to keep up the good work!

  9. NPR Explains How Muslims Are Deprived of Fundamental Rights in Secretive Prison Units -OpEd « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] highest per capita rate in the world, by far) and also because of the violence and brutality, and the use of prolonged isolation, that mirrors much of what has been taking place at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the “War on [...]

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