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International partners support authorities in Ethiopia to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in places of detention 

Addis Ababa, 8 May 2020 - In Ethiopia, while there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases in prisons, the uncertainty of the extent and impact of the virus has created anxiety and fear among prisoners, including increased feelings of isolation.

With the generous support of the Government of Sweden, medical supplies were this week handed over to the Federal Prison Commission, Addis Ababa Police Commission and the Children’s Remand and Rehabilitation Centre to help minimise the risk of infection and transmission of COVID-19 in places of detention.

These efforts are a joint collaboration with UNODC, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNICEF, UN Women and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who have also played a key role in advocating for the human rights of people in detention facilities. 

COVID-19 related communication materials have been translated into Amharic and other local languages and were handed over to Prison Administration for dissemination to the federal and regional states. 

Speaking from UNODC Headquarters in Vienna via a recorded message, the UNODC Representative a.i., Ms. Margaret Akullo, said, "People in prison should enjoy quality health care and should have access to the necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status".

The collaborating offices note the need to ensure that persons temporarily deprived of their freedom are adequately protected, noting the fact that COVID-19 affects all. 

The Commissioner General of the Federal Prison Commission, Mr. Abasso, thanked the Government of Sweden, UNODC, OHCHR, UNICEF, UN Women and ICRC for the provision of much-needed medical supplies.

He added that out of a prisoner population of over 110,000, the number of prisoners released from March 2020 was close to 40,000 prisoners and they were made up of those imprisoned for minor offences or approaching their release, elderly prisoners, including women detainees with children and expectant mothers’.

Mr. Abasso also added that the Federal Prison Commission has ensured that released prisoners were quarantined before being let into the community. He concluded by saying that the Federal Prison Commission appreciated the continued support of the Government of Sweden and international partners in the national response to the pandemic. 

Medical supplies were also delivered to the Addis Ababa Police Commission – Lideta Sub City Police Department and the Children’s Remand and Rehabilitation Centre. 

The Head of the Lideta Sub-City Police Department, Mr. Seyoum, stressed that the contribution was crucial to preventing transmission in places of detention as well as protect police officers in the frontline of duty. 

The Director of the Children’s Remand and Rehabilitation Centre, Mr. Zemedhun, welcomed the support as part of the preventive efforts being undertaken at the centre. Guest of honour at the handover event was the Coordinator of the Child Justice Project Office of the Federal Supreme Court, Judge Leuleselassie, who praised the complementary measures being undertaken by UNICEF, UNODC and partners to protect the children at the centre. 

In this first phase, medical supplies will target prisoners, prison officials and health care workers in federal and regional prisons.

The planning for a second phase of support is underway and will include the provision of additional medical supplies including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prisons, the police, a children’s remand centre and a women’s shelter for victims of human trafficking. 

Related links

OHCHR East Africa

UNICEF Ethiopia

UN Women Ethiopia Country Office

ICRC Ethiopia

WHO Ethiopia

UNODC Position Paper on COVID-19 Preparedness and Responses in Prison