CHR bats for inclusion of prisoners in COVID-19 vaccine priority list
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday said that persons deprived of liberty (PDL) should be considered as a priority population for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, given the living facilities they’re in across the country.
CHR Spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said that their argument is in consonance with the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR) that governments have an obligation to provide vaccines to groups that are at high risk of infection, and that includes detainees.
“The CHR has pointed out before that prison conditions make PDLs particularly vulnerable in facing this pandemic with the spread of the virus caused by overcrowding; unsatisfactory healthcare services in prisons; and higher rates of pre-existing medical conditions among prison populations, especially the elderly inmates,” said de Guia in a statement.
“While we recognize the efforts of authorities to reduce the number of prisoners and provide quarantine facilities inside jails, the situation remains critical in these institutions as they still emerge as COVID-19 hotspots. We urge the government to lend clarity on the country’s vaccination plan, policies, and treatment strategies as the impact of the pandemic is graver for vulnerable populations, including those incarcerated. No one should be left behind,” she added.
The CHR’s statement mirrored the study of Filipino Prof. Jan Gresil Kahambing published in the Oxford University Press, which identified that prisoners in the Philippines are “extremely vulnerable populations.”
The Philippines has some of the most overcrowded prison facilities in the world with a standard cell holding more than twice the recommended capacity.
The Human Rights Watch likewise claimed that Philippine authorities are not properly reporting prison deaths amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We likewise call on the government to provide up-to-date and reliable data on COVID-19 infections and related deaths in prisons to properly assess the situation in detention facilities. As the lead agency in the Interim National Preventive Mechanism, CHR’s access to these information would inform policy recommendations that would help target the gaps and eventually alleviate the condition and welfare of PDLs,” said de Guia.
The Commission further reminded government that the “right to health is an internationally recognized fundamental right belonging to prisoners,” and must not discriminate against those held in detention.
“Those who are high risk inmates for COVID-19 should be prioritized for inoculation with the same treatment with comparative groups in the general population. More so in times of national health crisis, the government is obligated to account for the treatment of people deprived of their liberty, and must take appropriate steps to safeguard their lives and health. #Vaccine4All,” the CHR said.
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