October 19, 2011
The UN’s torture investigator, Juan Mendez, yesterday called on UN members nations to ban nearly all uses of solitary confinement in prisons, warning that is causes serious mental and physical harm and often amounts to torture. Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment, presented a written report on solitary confinement to the UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee, which singled out for criticism the routine use of supermax isolation in the United States. He also gave a press conference and participated in a forum with American civil rights and human rights groups.
As Reuters reports, Mendez stated that solitary confinement “‘can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.’” He continued, “‘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 (of information) technique.’”
Mendez was precise in defining solitary confinement, and in outlining the limitations that should be placed on its use. He stated:
“I am of the view that juveniles, given their physical and mental immaturity, should never be subjected to solitary confinement. Equally, in order not to exacerbate a previously existing mental condition, individuals with mental disabilities should be provided with proper medical or psychiatric care and under no circumstances should they ever be subjected to solitary confinement. My recommendations are, first, to see if we can have a complete ban on prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. And I more or less arbitrarily defined that as anything beyond 15 days of solitary confinement, meaning someone being confined to a cell for at least 22 hours a day.”
As Reuters reports, “Mendez told reporters he conceded that short-term solitary confinement was admissible under certain circumstances, such as the protection of lesbian, gay or bisexual detainees or people who had fallen foul of prison gangs. But he said there was ‘no justification for using it as a penalty, because that’s an inhumane penalty.’”
Mendez made reference to the case of accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, who spent after eight months in solitary at a military brig in Virginia before being moved to general population to await court-martial. Mendez said he “planned to issue a report on Manning and other cases in the next few weeks.”
Mendez also told reporters that he himself had spent three days in solitary in the 1970s in his native Argentina, then under military dictatorship, and they were “the three longest days in my life.”