Last week at the 29th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in June, PRI co-organised a side-event together with Transparency International, which was co-sponsored by two member states of the core group, Morocco and Austria. Focus was given to the particular impact of corruption on the rights of detainees, and panellists discussed how human rights mechanisms should integrate the issue of corruption within their mandates.
Expert panellists shared concrete cases of the impact of corruption in places of detention on the human rights of detainees. Miloš Janković, a member of the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT), presented the Subcommittee’s Seventh Annual Report, and spoke about how corruption in the criminal justice system often leaves detainees vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment. Prisoners are often from some of society’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, and corrupt prison systems leave them open to further oppression and exploitation.
Experience from Cambodia echoes these concerns, as explained by Sharon Critoph who formerly worked with LICADHO, a Cambodian-based organisation working on prisoners’ rights. Ms Critoph explained how corruption within the Cambodian prison system was affecting prisoners’ most basic human rights, such as the right to food or healthcare, and prisoners’ families often have to bribe prison officials in order to get adequate food and drinking water to their loved ones in prison. This inevitably impacts harshly on the poorest in society, and families may suffer excessively (both financially and emotionally) from having a loved one imprisoned within a corrupt criminal justice system.
Corruption also extends to work programmes and rehabilitation opportunities, where prisoners may be expected to pay for access to training opportunities, and many of those who take part in work programmes suffer from exploitation, do not receive remuneration for their work and are sometimes beaten if they refuse to take part. Lack of access to rehabilitation and training programs is extremely detrimental to juveniles in prison, and the LICADHO report, ‘Rights at a price: Life inside Cambodia’s prisons’ identifies juveniles as one of the most vulnerable groups in the criminal justice system, and notes that girls in particular represent a vulnerable and often neglected group.
However, there are concrete policies and solutions that can tackle corruption and torture within the criminal justice system, most of which simply begin with countries complying with their international legal obligations. The experts pointed out for instance that where prisoners have access to legal advice, medical examinations and healthcare, the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of their detention before judicial authorities and have access to effective complaints mechanisms, the risk of being exposed to extortion, torture and exploitation is greatly decreased. Corruption and human rights abuses are inextricably linked, and require a holistic approach including adequate laws, an independent judiciary, an active civil society and a free press.
Panellists called on states to recognise the link between human rights violations and corruption within the criminal justice system, and ensure that preventive mechanisms are implemented, so that experiences such as that of a 15 year-old boy imprisoned in Cambodia, quoted below, are no longer a reality for people imprisoned all over the world.
“Rich prisoners would never be hit…but when poor prisoners committed mistakes they would be hit. Even if we were not wrong, they still hit us. When we were in the cell, they ordered us to do things for them – ‘go get the water’, ‘do this’ and ‘do that’…if we didn’t do it, they would hit us…I was kicked in my face because I was poor”.
A resolution on the impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights has been tabled at the UN Human Rights Council’s 29th Session by Morocco. If adopted, it asks UN human rights experts to consider the issue of corruption in their mandates, and will lead to a report on ‘best practice’ in fighting corruption compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
See also a blog from our policy director in 2014 on how corruption is rife in prisons and criminal justice systems, and an expert blog post from John Podmore from January 2015, on why prison systems need to acknowledge widespread corruption.