Sri Lanka: UNODC and EU Provide Comprehensive Support to Sri Lankan Prisons Amid COVID-19


Colombo (Sri Lanka) 25 May 2020 – The UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) has provided personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitization items to the Sri Lankan Department of Prisons with the aim of preventing the spread of the coronavirus among prisoners and to safeguard prison staff directly involved in prisoners’ healthcare. This assistance is part of an ongoing project funded by the European Union intended to support the Government of Sri Lanka in preventing and countering violent extremism in prison settings. Nonetheless, in an effort to deal with the effects of the pandemic, some funding has been re-directed to contribute to the COVID-19 infection prevention and control mechanisms in the country.

A handover meeting was carried out on May 21 at the Sri Lankan Department of Prisons headquarters in Colombo, with the participation of the Commissioner General of Prisons, Mr. T.M.J.W. Tennakoon, the UN Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka, Ms. Hanaa Singer, and the Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka, His Excellency Mr. Denis Chaibi. During the event, Ms. Hanaa Singer said: “I thank the European Union for their support to the Sri Lanka Department of Prisons through UNODC, for allowing UNODC-GMCP to take immediate measures to respond to critical needs in prisons under the context of COVID-19. We commend the efforts exerted to effectively keeping the spread of COVID-19 under control and for maintaining the prison population safe from it. However, the UN shares the government’s concern on overcrowded prisons in the country and will continue supporting their effort to ease the situation with sound rule of law.” The items provided include 20,000 surgical face masks, 200 bottles of had sanitizer, 1,500 pairs of hand gloves, 5,000 hand soap and 30 infrared thermometers.

In addition to these items, UNODC-GMCP also provided 10 computers to be set up in 10 prisons located across the Western Province of the country, intended to keep court hearings ongoing in a remote manner. As movement of prisoners has been restricted to prevent COVID-19 from entering the prisons, conducting remote trials is a way of continuing and reducing backlog of cases as well as avoiding overcrowded courtrooms during a time of social distancing. Ambassador Denis Chaibi said: “It is interesting to see how UNODC has adapted to the conditions of the Sri Lanka Department of Prisons. This idea of remote courts is innovative and creative, using technology and to leap ahead to ensure justice. It is very impressive to be in Sri Lanka and already see the future for ourselves. Even if it is a small step, with these computers and protective items, it is a meaningful one, because the world can learn from incredible resilience in Sri Lanka”.

As part of support within the context of COVID-19, UNODC-GMCP also translated guidelines titled “Virus and Places of Detention” for prison settings, developed by UNODC-GMCP experts, into Sinhala and Tamil languages in order to facilitate understanding and distribution among prison staff across the country. In an effort to mainstream safety and hygiene in prison settings, these guidelines will be included in all ongoing training curricula for prison staff conducted by UNODC-GMCP.

Earlier this year, UNODC-GMCP had deployed prison experts who are currently conducting assessments and planning training activities to assist the Sri Lanka Department of Prisons to reduce the risk of radicalisation and managing violent extremist prisoners – a programme funded by the EU. Training includes subjects related to dynamic security, respect and compliance of international human rights instruments and vocational training for prisoners.

More information

See Global Maritime Crime Programme’s website.

See Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and Maldives’s website.


This support was made possible through the generous financial assistance of the European Union