Tuesday, October 08, 2013

US: Albert Woodfox - Four decades in solitary confinement amounts to torture, UN expert tells US

Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

7 October 2013 – An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on the United States to immediately end the indefinite solitary confinement imposed on Albert Woodfox for the past four decades.

“Keeping Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for more than four decades clearly amounts to torture and it should be lifted immediately,” said the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, who has repeatedly urged the US Government to abolish the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement.

He added in a news release that he is deeply concerned about the physical and mental condition of Mr. Woodfox, who was convicted of murder together with Herman Wallace.

Mr. Wallace was released last week when his conviction was overturned on appeal. The day after his release, on 2 October, he died after battling cancer, having spent 41 years in solitary confinement.

“This is a sad case and it is not over,” stressed Mr. Méndez. “The co-accused, Mr. Woodfox, remains in solitary confinement pending an appeal to the federal court and has been kept in isolation in a 8-foot-by-12 foot cell for up to 23 hours per day, with just one hour of exercise or solitary recreation.”

“The circumstances of the incarceration of the so-called Angola Three clearly show that the use of solitary confinement in the US penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law,” he noted.

Mr. Méndez welcomed the federal court ruling of 1 October 2013, but noted that the use of solitary confinement and its negative effects on inmates is widespread throughout the US penitentiary system.

“Persons held in solitary confinement should always be allowed to challenge the reasons and the length of the regime, and should always have access to legal counsel and medical assistance.”

He urged the US Government to adopt concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement under all circumstances.

“I call for an absolute ban of solitary confinement of any duration for juveniles, persons with psychosocial disabilities or other disabilities or health conditions, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers as well as those serving a life sentence and prisoners on death row,” he said.

Mr. Méndez has repeatedly requested an invitation to carry out a visit to the country, including state prisons in California, but so far has not received a positive answer.

“It is about time to provide the opportunity for an in situ assessment of the conditions in US prisons and detention facilities,” Mr. Méndez reiterated.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.