[Pnews] “Four decades in solitary confinement can only be described as torture” – UN rights expert

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 8 10:36:41 EDT 2013

*US: “Four decades in solitary confinement can only be described as 
torture” – UN rights expert*


GENEVA (7 October 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on 
torture, Juan E. Méndez, today called on the United States to 
immediately end the indefinite solitary confinement imposed on Albert 
Woodfox since 1972.

Mr. Woodfox was convicted of murder together with Herman Wallace, who 
was released last week when his conviction was overturned on appeal. A 
day later, on 2 October, Mr. Wallace 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 (2.5 x 3.5 m. Approx.) cell for up to 23 hours per 
day, with just one hour of exercise or solitary recreation.”

“Keeping Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for more than four 
decades clearly amounts to torture and it should be lifted immediately,” 
said Mr. Méndez, who has repeatedly urged the US Government to abolish 
the use of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. “I am deeply 
concerned about his physical and mental condition.”

“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,” the independent investigator on torture and other cruel, 
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment 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,” Mr. Méndez said.

The human rights expert 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.

The Special Rapporteur addressed the issue of solitary confinement in 
the US in his 2011 report* to the UN General Assembly and in numerous 
communications to the Government. He has also 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 

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council 
as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or 
degrading treatment or punishment on 1 November 2010. He is independent 
from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Méndez 
has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a 
long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is 
currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington 
College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the 
International Bar Association. Mr. Méndez has previously served as the 
President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) 
until 2009, and was the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on the 
Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007, as well as an advisor on crime 
prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, between 2009 
and 2010. Learn more, log on to: 

*(*) *Check the 2011 report on solitary confinement: 
or http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=103

UN Human Rights Country Page – United States of America: 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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