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Deprivation of liberty in the name of public health must stop – UN rights expert

GENEVA (19 June 2018) – Countries around the world must stop routinely locking up citizens because of stigma, prejudice or health conditions, says the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras.

“The use of confinement and deprivation of liberty has become the default tool of social control in the name of public safety, ‘morals’ and public health,” Mr. Pūras said during the presentation of a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“While certain instances of incarceration may always be justified, it is unacceptable that in the 21st century confinement continues to be the norm for minor or non-violent criminal offences and for addressing public health issues.

“National laws that criminalise people on the basis of stigma or prejudice must be removed from the statute books. People should not be imprisoned simply because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, illicit drug use, HIV status or because they are living with disabilities. Neither should sex workers or those carrying infectious diseases,” Mr. Pūras stressed.

The Special Rapporteur also addressed the specific cases of children and women deprived of their liberty, as well as the issue of tuberculosis as a public health-based form of detention.

“The number of cases of tuberculosis cannot be reduced simply by placing persons living with the disease behind bars or in closed wards. Confinement not only puts them at risk by placing them in settings which often have inadequate access to treatment and support, but also fuels the spread of the infection,” he said.

“I am also concerned about legal frameworks that continue to restrict access to sexual and reproductive health products, services and information, including for the termination of pregnancy. This has led to an increase in the number of women being imprisoned, and States must carefully reflect on how to reverse and end this phenomenon,” the UN expert stressed.

“We must seriously consider latest proposals to abolish detention for children, and start working on the full elimination of institutional care of children under age five. We must continue the very difficult but important conversation towards ending the confinement of children and adults with disabilities, in particular with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities,” he added.

“The right to health is a powerful tool that can help us illuminate the injustice, indignity, and broken nature of our systems for confining people. It shows that the long arm of incarceration reaches far beyond locked cells and wards and into communities. It helps us challenge ourselves to think beyond a one size fits all approach to managing social, behavioural, and other public health challenges,” Mr. Pūras said. 


Mr. Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) the Special Rapporteur on the right to health is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health (right to health). Mr. Pūras is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health, child health, and public health policies. He is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry social paediatrics at Vilnius University, and teaches at the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of International relations and political science and Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University, Lithuania.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests, please contact: Lucía de la Sierra (+ 41 22 917 9741/ ldelasierra@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rightshttp://www.standup4humanrights.org/en/