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News in Brief 3 April 2020

News in Brief 3 April 2020

This is the News in Brief from the United Nations.

Political prisoners should be among first released, says UN rights chief

The decision by many countries to release prisoners to slow the transmission of new coronavirus, has been welcomed by the UN’s top rights official, Michelle Bachelet.

The development comes after the High Commissoner’s appeal last week to reduce overcrowding in detention centres.

But on Friday her spokesperson Rupert Colville urged States to release “every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners, and those detained for critical, dissenting views”.

“In countries that are doing very large prisoner releases, (they) have not been necessarily releasing those types of prisoners. And that includes Iran, they have released some, but not others, but Egypt hasn’t released hardly anyone yet.”

Mr Colville said that Iran had increased its prisoner release to around 100,000 inmates – representing 40 percent of the entire prison population.

He also noted that Indonesia announced that it would free 30,000 prisoners convicted of minor crimes, including drug use, while Turkey is also understood to be considering a similar measure.

Concerns remain about Syrian detainees, however, where the Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights has described the situation in all official prisons and makeshift detention facilities as “alarming”.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak it warned of overcrowding in central prisons and in facilities run by the four Government security branches as civil war still rages, and in the Sednaya military prison.

Reports from the UN office highlighted deaths in these facilities including as a result of torture and denial of medical care.

Relief supplies boost for Sudan, to COVID-proof vulnerable populations

In Sudan, aid is to be stepped up in response to COVID-19 restrictions, to protect the more than nine million people there in need of humanitarian assistance – including victims of gender-based violence.

Seven cases of infection including two deaths of new coronavirus have been confirmed in the country, all of which came from abroad, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA.

Although workshops and awareness-raising sessions on gender-based violence have been suspended, confidential services have been maintained.

OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said the UN is aware that the rise in domestic abuse linked to COVID-19 curfews was happening in Sudan “like anywhere else”:

“The alarm has been raised about the increase of gender-based violence because of confinement at home; that is an issue…Individual counselling and referrals for example to health facilities and gender-based violence confidential call-in services so where women can speak in confidence to counsellors, that continues.”

Among the emergency measures in response to COVID-19, UN partners are planning to distribute two to three months of food rations at one time.

This will limit the number of times people gather for food and reduce the potential for the virus to spread.

To reduce exposure of malnourished children to the coronavirus, more ready-to-use therapeutic food will also be available, to reduce the need to visit nutrition centres.

OCHA is also developing guidelines and procedures to make sure that health workers can continue to deliver immunization, nutritional supplements and maintain infant and young child feeding programmes.

UN General Assembly adopts first resolution since COVID-19 emerged

The first resolution passed by the UN General Assembly since the new coronavirus outbreak began, has stressed the need for international cooperation to overcome COVID-19.

The resolution, approved by consensus in New York on Thursday, also highlighted the need to respect human rights, and the central role of United Nations agencies in combating the disease.

It said that there was no place for discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic, which has so far seen around a million confirmed cases and claimed more than 50,000 lives.

Although General Assembly decisions are not binding in the same way as Security Council resolutions, the forum is an opportunity for all 193 UN Member States to raise issues of concern.

The text was submitted by Switzerland, Indonesia, Singapore, Norway, Liechtenstein and Ghana; reportedly it had the backing of 188 nations.

A parallel resolution sponsored by Russia was not successful; it addressed the issue of lifting international sanctions to halt the spread of the disease.

Daniel Johnson, UN News

  • Political prisoners should be among first released, says UN rights chief

  • Relief supplies boost for Sudan, to COVID-proof vulnerable populations

  • UN General Assembly adopts first resolution since COVID-19 emerged

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Daniel Johnson, UN News - Geneva
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