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The Right to Health of Prisoners in International Human Rights Law, Lines, 2008

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International Journal of Prisoner Health, March 2008; 4(1): 3Á53

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

The right to health of prisoners in international human
rights law

RICK LINES
International Harm Reduction Association

Abstract
This paper explores the health rights of prisoners as defined in international law, and the
mechanisms that have been used to ensure the rights of persons in detention to realise the highest
attainable standard of health. It examines this right as articulated within United Nations and regional
human rights treaties, non-binding or so-called soft law instruments from international organisations
and the jurisprudence of international human rights bodies. It explores the use of economic, social
and cultural rights mechanisms, and those within civil and political rights, as they engage the right to
health of prisoners, and identifies the minimum legal obligations of governments in order to remain
compliant with human rights norms as defined within the international case law.
In addressing these issues, this article adopts a holistic approach to the definition of the highest
attainable standard of health. This includes a consideration of adequate standards of general medical
care, including preventative health and mental health services. It also examines the question of
environmental health, and those poor conditions of detention that may exacerbate health decline,
disease transmission, mental illness or death. The paper examines the approach to prison health of the
United Nations human rights system and its various monitoring bodies, as well as the regional human
rights systems in Europe, Africa and the Americas. Based upon this analysis, the paper draws
conclusions on the current fulfilment of the right to health of prisoners on an international scale, and
proposes expanded mechanisms under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment to monitor and promote the health rights of prisoners at the international and
domestic levels.

Keywords: Prisoner health, Human Rights, International Law, United Nations

Introduction
The late act for preserving the health of prisoners requires that an experienced Surgeon or
Apothecary be appointed to every gaol: a man of repute in his profession. His business is,
in the first place, to order the immediate removal of the sick, to the infirmary; and see that
they have proper bedding and attendance. Their irons should be taken off; and they
should have, not only medicines, but also diet suitable to their condition. He must

Correspondence: Rick Lines, Senior Policy Advisor, International Harm Reduction Association, 40 Bermondsey
Street, 2nd Floor, London, SE1 3UD. Tel: '44 (0) 207 940 7526. Email: rick.lines@ihra.net
ISSN 1744-9200 print/ISSN 1744-9219 online # 2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/17449200701862145

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1837535

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R. Lines
diligently and daily visit them himself; not leaving them to journeymen and apprentices.
He should constantly inculcate the necessity of cleanliness and fresh air; and the danger
of crowding prisoners together: and he should recommend, what he cannot enforce. I need
not add, that according to the act, he must report to the justices at each quarter-sessions,
the state of health of the prisoners under his care.1
John Howard
The State of Prisons in England and Wales (1777)

In this excerpt from his most famous work, The State of Prisons in England and Wales, the
18th century prison reformer, John Howard, discussed the then newly passed Act for
Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol, and preventing the Gaol Distemper.2 Enacted in
1774, the Act was the first Parliamentary legislation in Britain to specifically address health
in prisons. As such, it was likely one of the earliest pieces of such legislation in Europe, if not
the world.
The principles enshrined in this 230-year-old law are notable for their relevance to a
contemporary examination of the right to health of prisoners. Indeed, more than two
centuries later, the principles the Act outlines continue to form the framework of state
obligations in international law to safeguard the health of prisoners.3
For example, the Act ordered the appointment of ‘‘an experienced Surgeon or
Apothecary . . . to attend each Gaol or Prison respectively’’. In doing so, it enshrined the
legal obligation of the government to provide access to medical care for all prisoners. In
specifying that this surgeon or apothecary be ‘‘experienced’’, it mandated that prison
medical staff meet proper qualifications and standards.
The Act required that every prison have an acceptable medical infrastructure. It ordered
that ‘‘Two Rooms in each Gaol or Prison, One for the Men, and the other for the Women,
to be set apart for the Sick Prisoners, directing them to be removed into such Rooms as
soon as they shall be seized with any Disorder, and kept separate from those who shall be in
Health.’’ These medical units were required to be maintained in a hygienic manner, and
were ‘‘to be regularly washed and kept clean, and constantly supplied with fresh Air, by
Means of Hand Ventilators, or otherwise’’.
The Act identified the government’s responsibility ‘‘for restoring or preserving the Health
of Prisoners’’, therefore suggesting an obligation to provide both primary medical care for
sick prisoners (restoring), as well as taking proactive preventative health measures
(preserving). The Act’s attention to issues of hygiene, cleanliness and ventilation, as well
as the requirement to separate ill prisoners from the rest of the prison population,
underlines the responsibility to take measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
Indeed, the objective of ‘‘preventing the Gaol Distemper’’ identified in the Act’s title speaks
to the preventative mandate of the legislation.
The legal obligation of the state to provide medical services in prisons was emphasised by
the fact that health care was to be paid for out of taxation. It was reinforced by the
stipulation that if ‘‘any Gaoler or Keeper of any Prison shall, at any Time, neglect or
disobey’’ the legislation, they were liable for prosecution, fine and possible imprisonment.
Significantly, the Act also established a system of external monitoring and oversight that
required the prison medical officer ‘‘to report to the . . . Justices by whom he is appointed, at
each Quarter Session, a State of the Health of the Prisoners under his Care or
Superintendance’’. In this sense, the Act touched upon the modern obligation of states to
progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health. Even
the Act’s title, and its objective of ‘‘preserving the health of prisoners’’, reflected the concept

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1837535

The right to health of prisoners

5

in contemporary human rights law of the positive obligations of governments to take action
to protect or safeguard the lives and well-being of people in detention.4
Background to the issue of health in prisons
In the 200 years since An Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol, and preventing the
Gaol Distemper defined proper standards of medical care for prisoners in English jails, a
comprehensive international legal framework has developed guaranteeing the right to health
of all persons deprived of their liberty worldwide. However, the emergence of this
international human rights regime has no more resolved the global problem of prison
heath than Parliamentary legislation in 18th century England assured prisoners of proper
medical treatment and living conditions.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the independent expert
body which monitors state compliance with the obligations under the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has stated, ‘‘Health is a fundamental human right
indispensable from the exercise of other human rights’’.5 On this basis, the health status of
prisoners is a measure to assess the degree to which the rights of persons in detention are
fulfilled or denied in a much broader sense. In reviewing international data on prison
health, one can only conclude that the denial of the fundamental human rights of people in
prison, including the right to health, is occurring on a global scale.
Today, over nine million people are incarcerated in penal institutions worldwide.6 As this
figure represents only the prison population at any moment in time, it significantly
underestimates the total number of persons who pass through prisons each year, often for
short periods of detention. Indeed, annual admissions to prisons in countries across the
world are estimated to be at least double, and in some cases 10 times, the actual number of
people incarcerated on any single day.7
For a great many of these prisoners, the conditions in which they are forced to live differ
little in quality than those reported by John Howard 200 years ago. Howard’s investigations
revealed prisoners ‘‘in loathsome cells’’,8 ‘‘covered (hardly covered) with rags; almost
famished; and sick of diseases’’,9 who were ‘‘crowded in close rooms, cells, and
subterraneous dungeons’’10 where the ‘‘Air which has to be breathed, is made poisonous
to a more intense degree, by the effluvia from the sick, and what else in prisons is
offensive.’’11 This assessment is strikingly similar to that described by Human Rights Watch
in its 1993 Global Report on Prisons, which found:
The great majority of the millions of persons who are imprisoned worldwide at any given
moment, and the tens of millions who spend at least part of the year behind bars, are
confined in conditions of filth and corruption, without adequate food or medical care,
with little or nothing to do, and in circumstances in which violence*from other inmates,
their keepers or both*is a constant threat.12
A significant proportion of prisoners in most countries are members of groups that suffer
social, economic or ethnic/racial discrimination in the broader society. Many of the same
factors that make these populations more likely to find themselves in conflict with the law,
and therefore incarcerated, also mean that they suffer disproportionately from a poor health
status.13 According to the World Health Organization (WHO),
In all countries of the world, it is people from the poorest and most marginalized sections
of the population who make up the bulk of those serving prison sentences, and many of

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them therefore have diseases such as tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/
AIDS and mental disorders . . . Penitentiary populations [therefore] contain an overrepresentation of members of the most marginalized groups in society, people with poor
health and chronic untreated conditions.14

For example, the rate of tuberculosis (TB) infection among incarcerated populations is as
much as one hundred times higher than that found outside of prisons,15 and in many
countries is one of the leading causes of mortality among prisoners.16 According to Dr. Jaap
Veen, ‘‘There is a clear relation between TB and poverty’’.17 Given that ‘‘Prisoners
generally come from the most deprived strata of society’’, he concludes that it is ‘‘no wonder
that TB in prisons in generally more prevalent than in civil society in general’’.18
Within prisons, the risk of the spread of TB is heightened by poor and overcrowded
prison conditions,19 illustrating the important relationship between environmental conditions in prisons and the health status of prisoners. Inadequate medical infrastructure, or
inconsistent access to medications, heightens the risk of developing multi-drug resistant
strains of TB within prison populations.20 As a result, multi-drug resistant TB is common
in the prison systems of both high-income and low-income countries.21 These multi-drug
resistant strains of the disease, which are only treatable with expensive second-line TB
therapies whose availability is strictly controlled and which require as much as two years
continuous administration, pose an increased risk of illness, or even death, to prisoners and
prison staff, as well as to the population outside of prisons.
But TB is just one example of health problems that are magnified within the prison
environment. According to the WHO, prisons are places where ‘‘Two of the greatest public
health problems facing all societies overlap: the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and the pandemic
harmful use of psychotropic substances such as alcohol and illegal drugs’’.22 In many
countries, this intersection fuels very high rates of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and
hepatitis C, among prisoners who share equipment such as needles or syringes to inject
drugs. As a result, rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection are significantly higher among
prison populations than in the community outside of prisons.23
As with TB, HIV infection can spread with alarming speed in prisons, particularly among
prisoners who inject drugs. For example, in 2002 an HIV outbreak among injecting drugusing prisoners was identified at the Alytus Prison in Lithuania, during which time 263
prisoners tested positive for HIV within the space of a few months. Before this outbreak,
testing had identified only 18 HIV infections in Lithuania’s entire prison system, and only
300 persons were known to be living with HIV in the country as a whole.24
High rates of HIV and other infectious diseases in prisons can lead to alarmingly high
rates of mortality among prisoners. In South African prisons, where high rates of both HIV
and TB infection are evident, officials recorded 1087 ‘‘natural deaths’’ in prison in the year
2000, a 584% increase over the number of similar deaths in 1995. When the Department of
Correctional Services examined post-mortem reports on these deaths in 1999, it concluded
that 90% were HIV-related.25 Based upon these figures and the continuing growth of the
South African prison population, the study predicted that, by 2010, 45,000 people would
die in the country’s prisons.26
In addition to infectious diseases, mental health in prison is a growing international
concern. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, who is
appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to report on the status of the right to health
around the world, has expressed concern that people with mental health problems are often
‘‘misdirected towards prison rather than appropriate mental health care or support

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services’’,27 creating a disproportionately high rate of mental illness within penal
institutions. In Europe, the WHO estimates that as many as 40% of prisoners suffer
from some form of mental illness,28 and, as a result, are up to seven times more likely to
commit suicide than are people outside of prisons.29 The Special Rapporteur has noted that
although poor prison conditions ‘‘tend to exacerbate mental disabilities . . . there is often
little access to even rudimentary mental health care and support services’’.30 Prisoners with
mental illness are also particularly vulnerable to violence. For example, the UN Special
Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has noted that, ‘‘mentally ill women are at high
risk of sexual abuse in custodial settings. Consequently, it is imperative that prisons have
adequate facilities to meet the needs and ensure the protection of such women’’.31
Despite the demonstrable need for countries to provide proper standards of primary
medical and mental health care to fulfil the health rights of people in detention, few prison
regimes boast health services that meet international human rights standards. As reported
by Human Rights Watch,
Complaints about medical care, or lack thereof were . . . among the most frequent we
heard in prisons throughout the world . . . A complaint we heard almost everywhere was
that prisoners were denied medical care because of indifference [and] neglect . . . Health
care for most of the world’s poor is inadequate; for prisoners, often the poorest of the
poor, it is usually miserable.32
Human Rights Watch also documented consistent problems with environmental health in
prisons, including overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate lighting and
ventilation, extremes of temperature, insect and rodent infestation and insufficient/nonexistent personal hygiene supplies. According to the report, any one of these factors can
negatively affect a prisoner’s health,33 and ‘‘Inadequate diet and unhygienic living
conditions . . . contribute to an extremely high rate of disease and death’’.34
While the Human Rights Watch report dates from 1993, little has changed in the
intervening years. A 2001 review of international prison conditions noted:
Living conditions in prisons have certainly not improved uniformly in the past decade
and in many countries overcrowding has made these conditions even worse. The
recognition of the rights of prisoners across jurisdictions has been uneven and progress
uncertain.35
The evidence clearly illustrates the degree to which the right to health of prisoners is far
from fulfilled. Indeed, in all regions of the world, the people committed to prison are those
whose social and economic marginalisation places them at increased risk of physical and
mental health problems. They are incarcerated in overcrowded, unsanitary and stressful
conditions, alongside others who share the same increased health vulnerabilities. As a result,
the prison environment is one marked by disease transmission, environmentally exacerbated health decline and death, and heightened risk of mental illness. In the words of the
WHO, ‘‘Ill-health thrives in settings of poverty, conflict, discrimination and disinterest.
Prison is an environment that concentrates precisely these issues’’.36
The problem of poor prison health is not one limited to prisoners and prison authorities.
Indeed, health experts and international organisations have consistently emphasised the fact
that the issue of prison health cannot be isolated from broader public health concerns, as
the vast majority of people in prison are eventually released back into the community.37
Therefore, the fulfilment of the right to health of persons in detention is not only a matter of

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pressing concern for persons in detention; it is also integrally linked to state obligations to
fulfil the right to health within the population as a whole.
Background to international human rights law
The section will review the various human rights systems and monitoring bodies whose
work is described in this article. Rather than a comprehensive overview of the system of
international human rights law in its entirety, this section will explain and contextualise the
key human rights treaties and bodies that have examined questions of health in prisons.
International human rights law is a consensually based system of treaty law. In ratifying a
human rights convention, a state pledges to respect, protect and fulfil the rights it enshrines,
and participate in the system(s) of independent monitoring and adjudication the treaty sets
out.
There are four systems of international human rights law, falling into two distinct
categories. The first is the United Nations system, which itself contains two distinct
elements: the treaty system and the Charter-based system.
The treaty-based system is based on nine core international conventions:
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Convention on the Rights of the Child
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and
Members of Their Families
. International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (not
yet in force)
. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (not yet in force)
In addition to defining specific human rights protections, each treaty also establishes a
committee of independent experts (known as a ‘‘treaty body’’) to monitor the progress of
states towards meeting the obligations enshrined in the treaty. The UN Human Rights
Committee, for example, monitors the national implementation of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors
the implementation at country level of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and so on.
The committees fulfil this mandate through a periodic reporting function, in which
countries that have ratified the given treaty must submit a report to that independent expert
committee every three to five years and have their human rights record under that treaty
reviewed. The underlying principle of the periodic reporting process is one of ‘‘constructive
dialogue’’ rather than criticism or confrontation. Following each of these periodic reviews,
the committee in question will issue a report, called its Concluding Observations, on the
state’s progress, noting areas of good implementation and also recommendations for
improvement.
In addition, each committee is mandated to interpret the terms of treaty for which it is
responsible in order to provide guidance to states in fulfilling their treaty obligations. These
are typically done in the form of General Comments, in essence detailed commentaries on
how the committee interprets the scope of the right or treaty article in question. Some of the
independent committees, most notably the Human Rights Committee, are also empowered

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to consider individual complaints or ‘‘communications’’ from persons who allege to have
suffered human rights violations.
Unlike court decisions, none of the recommendations of UN human rights treaty bodies
are binding, and there is no direct enforcement mechanism. Rather, the political weight of
the treaties themselves is their strongest asset, as all states have agreed the same terms.
Lacking any enforcement powers, the independent committees rely on the good will of
states to comply with their recommendations.38
The Charter-based system is based on the Charter of the United Nations, Articles 1 and 55
of which state that an aim of the UN is to promote fundamental respect for human rights,
and which creates the principal organs of the United Nations.
Two of the primary bodies in this system are the UN General Assembly and the
Economic and Social Council. The General Assembly is comprised of all 192 UN member
states, and is the chief policy-setting body in the UN. It plays a key role in standard setting
and the codification of international law. Human rights treaties and declarations are
adopted at the General Assembly.
The work of the General Assembly is divided among a number of committees. The Third
Committee deals specifically with social, humanitarian and cultural issues, including
human rights. It considers reports from the human rights ‘‘Special Procedures’’ (see below)
and considers draft human rights conventions and resolutions.
A primary UN body in this context is the Human Rights Council, the most senior
political entity in UN system dealing specifically with human rights, and a subsidiary of the
General Assembly. It is made up of 47 UN member states, and was created in August 2006
to replace the Commission on Human Rights.
Among the mandates of the Human Rights Council is to oversee the ‘‘Special
Procedures’’. These are independent experts, known as Special Rapporteurs and Working
Groups, established to monitor and investigate specific human rights issues. Special
Rapporteurs will have either a thematic (e.g. the Right to Health) or a country-specific
mandate. They may make country visits on the request of the relevant government, and may
also receive individual complaints from victims of human rights abuses.
In addition to the UN human rights system, there are also three regional human rights
systems: the European system, the Inter-American system and the African system.
The fundamental treaty within the European system is Convention for the Protection of
Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, more commonly known as the European
Convention on Human Rights. This treaty is binding over all 47 member states of the
Council of Europe. The Convention is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights,
which sits in Strasbourg. The European Court considers individual allegations of human
rights abuses made against states, and unlike most other international human rights
systems, the judgments of the Court are legally binding within European member states.
Another key, although lesser-known, European treaty is the European Social Charter, which
covers economic, social and cultural rights. It is overseen by the European Committee on
Social Rights, which operates in much the same way as the UN treaty bodies noted above.
The Inter-American system is comprised of two separate human rights treaties. The
earliest of these is the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which is in force
in all 3539 member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS). The rights
enshrined in the American Declaration are monitored by the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, which is empowered to both conduct human rights investigations in
countries, as well as consider complaints from individuals regarding allegations of human
rights abuses.

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The second treaty within the Inter-American system is the American Convention on
Human Rights, which has been ratified by 25 of the OAS states. The Convention’s two
monitoring bodies are the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights. The Commission, an independent body similar to the
UN treaty bodies, considers reports from OAS member states and may bring cases to the
attention of the Court. The Court is very similar to the European Court, but its jurisdiction
is limited in that it may only consider complaints within those states that have accepted the
Court’s jurisdiction.40
The third and newest of the regional human rights system is the African system, in which
the fundamental treaty is the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The treaty body
created by the Charter to ensure its provisions are promoted is the African Commission on
Human and People’s Rights. Like the UN human rights committees, the African
Commission has a periodic reporting function under which states parties must submit a
report every two years detailing the actions they have taken to realise and promote the rights
enshrined within the Charter. In addition, the African Commission may also consider
individual complaints of alleged human rights violations. Recently, an additional protocol to
the African Charter was adopted, creating an African Court on Human and People’s
Rights. This Court has now been established but has yet to hear a case.
The standards established in human rights treaties are not ones imposed upon states from
the outside. Rather, each national government must, using its own domestic legislative
process, choose whether or not to ratify a human rights treaty before the terms of that treaty
are enforceable within that country. In this sense, ratifying a human rights treaty is similar
to ratifying a trade agreement or an arms control agreement. Unless and until a government
ratifies the treaty, it cannot be considered a party to that treaty, or bound by its terms.41
National governments therefore must provide consent via their own independent political
processes before they are bound by the terms of a human rights treaty. However, once
providing this consent, states have a legal obligation to uphold the protections and
standards the treaty articulates.
International treaties, including international human rights conventions, are best
conceptualised as contracts between states. The articles in the convention set out the
treaty obligations, which are essentially the terms of the agreement. These obligations are
owed by states that have ratified the treaty to the other states that have also ratified the
treaty. However, unlike most international treaties, in which states enter into commitments
regarding their inter-governmental relations and behaviour, human rights treaties enshrine
protections for individuals rather than countries. Under international human rights law,
when a state violates an individual’s rights as defined within an international treaty, it is in
effect breaching its contract with the other states parties to protect that person’s rights. The
reason that states owe their treaty obligations to each other is because only states are
subjects of international law. The individual is merely the subject of the agreement.42
In examining the question of the right to health of prisoners in international human rights
law, it is also important to review the protections and legal obligations of states within the
framework of international humanitarian law.
In times of armed conflict (war), special legal provisions come into operation to protect
those who do not, or who no longer, take part in active hostilities, in particular the sick and
injured fighters, civilians and those taken prisoner. These laws are collectively known as
international humanitarian law, generally known as the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions set out detailed provisions for states to protect the victims of fighting in both

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international armed conflicts and non-international armed conflicts (that is, fighting
between groups within one country, sometime referred to as civil wars or guerrilla wars).
There is complementarity between international humanitarian law and international
human rights law. However, the former lays down very specific protections in times of
armed conflict that go beyond the core non-derogable rights such as the right to life and the
prohibition of torture. Detailed provisions for protecting the rights of those fighters
captured in international armed conflicts, including the right to humane treatment and
medical care, are set out in the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 relative to the Treatment of
Prisoners of War.
The fact that civilians made up the largest proportion of victims of World War II led to
increased legal protection for civilians who find themselves either under occupation, or
otherwise under the control of the opposition. These protections are contained in the Fourth
Geneva Convention of 1949, relative to the Protection of Civilians. The Fourth Geneva
Convention includes detailed provisions to protect the lives and health of civilians who are
detained either under house arrest or en masse for reasons of security, which is termed
internment.
The fact that the majority of armed conflicts in the last 60 years have occurred within
states (that is, they are non-international armed conflicts) means that special provisions for
protecting the victims of these conflicts is provided for both in Common Article 3 of the all
the Geneva Conventions, which sets a minimum standard for humane treatment that
includes access to medical care, as well as in the Second Additional Protocol of 1977 relating to
the Protection of Victims of Non-international Armed Conflicts. In those situations of armed
conflict where prisoners may not be afforded the special protection of the Geneva
Conventions, they remain protected by international human rights law, including international standards and guidelines that express the elements of the right to health.
The right to health of prisoners within international human rights treaties
The right of all persons deprived of liberty to the highest attainable standard of health is
guaranteed in a wide range of international instruments, including human rights treaties at
the international and regional levels, United Nations resolutions and agreed model
standards and guidelines for the treatment of prisoners adopted by the UN General
Assembly. In some cases, these instruments articulate specific rights and standards, while
others are more general and vague.
The right to health of prisoners is articulated within economic, social and cultural rights,
under which the right is universal43 and non-discriminatory in application.44 It also finds
expression within civil and political rights mechanisms. The UN Human Rights
Committee, the independent expert body which monitors state compliance with the
obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has stated for
example that although there is no specific right to health provision within the Covenant,
questions of health in detention could be raised under the right to life (Article 6) or the right
to humane treatment (Article 10).45 Indeed both the right to life46 and right to humane
treatment47 impose positive obligations upon countries that have ratified the treaty to
protect the lives and/or well-being of persons in custody, which has often been interpreted
to require government authorities to take action to safeguard the health of prisoners. As will
be explored below, civil and political rights mechanisms within the UN and regional human
rights systems provide important protections for the health of persons in detention.

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The contemporary concept of the right to ‘‘the highest attainable standard of health’’ is
drawn from the Constitution of the World Health Organization in 1946,48 language that has
since formed the basis for subsequent international instruments that enshrine the right to
health.49 According to the Preamble of the WHO Constitution, ‘‘The enjoyment of the
highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being
without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition’’.50 As
such, the WHO defines the right to health as universal, and therefore entitled to all persons
whether inside or outside of prison. In recent years, the WHO has explicitly applied this
universal right to health as the basis for developing prison health guidelines.51
Article 2 of the WHO Constitution details over 20 areas of necessary action in order to
achieve the objective of enabling all persons to attain the highest possible standard of health.
Article 2 identifies the need to strengthen heath services,52 take action to prevent the spread
of diseases,53 address mental health issues54 and to improve nutrition, housing, sanitation,
recreation and other aspects of environmental hygiene.55 This broad and universal concept
of health is of particular resonance in examining the issue of prisons, and ensuring that
prisoners are entitled to adequate medical standards.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, contains reference to health
under Article 25.56 Although the drafting committee originally recommended that the
language of the WHO Constitution be adopted for the Universal Declaration,57 the final text
instead includes the issue with several others under ‘‘the right to a standard of living
adequate for the health and well-being’’.58 The language adopted by the Universal
Declaration in this regard has been characterised as being ‘‘very broad and vague’’,59
yet*given the historical significance and influence of the Declaration60*the inclusion of
even such unspecific language is important in the historical development of the right to
health.61
Based upon the WHO Constitution, the ‘‘right to health’’, as it has come to be
understood in human rights discourse, has been enshrined in human rights treaties and
other instruments at both the UN62 and regional63 levels. Within the United Nations
system, the first treaty to guarantee the right to health is the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was adopted in 1966 and entered into force 10
years later. Article 12 of the Covenant affirms ‘‘the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the
highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’’.64 As in the WHO Constitution,
the right to health is universal and imposes upon states parties to the treaty obligations well
beyond the provision of medical services.65 According to the UN Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, the right to health as defined in Article 12 is
an inclusive right extending not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the
underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate
sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, healthy occupational
and environmental conditions, and access to health-related education and information,
including on sexual and reproductive health.66
Subsequently, the right to health for children and adolescents has been enshrined within the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. While the Convention enshrines a holistic and
comprehensive right to health consistent with the approach of the WHO Constitution and
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child,
the independent expert body which monitors state compliance with the obligations under
the Convention, ‘‘understands the concepts of ‘health and development’ more broadly than
being strictly limited to the provisions defined’’ in the relevant articles.67 This would suggest

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that the right to health of children and adolescents places increased obligations on
countries, due to the age and vulnerability of young people.
The right to health of women is specifically protected under the UN Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which obligates governments to
‘‘take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of
health care . . . including those related to family planning’’ for women under Article 12.68 As
this language refers only to primary health care services, the Convention’s conception of the
right to health is much less comprehensive than that found in the Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights. However, as women’s rights to health are included under the
universal right enshrined in the Covenant, it has been suggested that the Convention’s
language reflects an intent to ‘‘highlight only those health-related areas where women need
additional protection’’.69 This is particularly relevant for incarcerated women. The UN
Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, in her 1999 report on women’s prisons in
the United States, noted ‘‘women . . . clearly have special medical needs. The mere
replication of health services provided for male prisoners is therefore not adequate’’.70
As mentioned above, protections for the health of all persons*including detainees and
prisoners*living in an occupied or partially occupied zone during a time of war or armed
conflict are provided for in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, in particular Convention (I) for the
Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field.71 However,
the most detailed protections for the health of prisoners in the Geneva Conventions are found
in Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Article 13 specifies that
Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by
the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of
war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present
Convention.72
Geneva III articulates specific medical and mental health standards and protocols that must
be observed by the Detaining Power, including access to free medical services73 in ‘‘an
adequate infirmary’’,74 regular medical inspections75 and the right to be transferred to a
civilian hospital for surgery or special treatment.76 Prior to Geneva III, health protections in
the area of medical care, mental health and environmental health for prisoners of war were
articulated in the 1929 Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.77
Within the regional human rights systems, the European instruments have the weakest
health guarantees. While the right to health is guaranteed under Article 11 of the European
Social Charter,78 it has been criticised for its vague articulation of state obligations in this
regard.79 Health is also addressed under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European
Union.80 However, the provision is again equivocal.81 The European Convention on Human
Rights contains no explicit right to health. However, as will be explored below, the right to
health of persons deprived of liberty is engaged under both the right to life (Article 2) and
the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3).
In the Inter-American system, the right to health was first articulated in 1948 in the
American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.82 The later American Convention on
Human Rights, which entered into force in 1978, contains no right to health.83 However, in
1988 an Additional Protocol on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted that
addresses this issue.84 Using language derived from the WHO Constitution and the
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 10 of the Additional Protocol states
that, ‘‘Everyone shall have the right to health, understood to mean the enjoyment of the
highest level of physical, mental and social well-being’’.85 However, as within the European

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system, prisoner health rights within the Inter-American system have most often been
engaged under the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.86
Unique among the regional systems, the African system enshrines a holistic protection of
the right to health within its primary human rights instrument. The African Charter on
Human and Peoples’ Rights guarantees ‘‘the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical
and mental health’’ under Article 16.87 The African Charter also requires that states parties
‘‘take the necessary measures to protect the health of their people and to ensure that they
receive medical attention when they are sick’’.88 Within the African system, the right to
health of prisoners has also been engaged under the right to life and the prohibition of cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment.89
Defining lawful health standards in prisons
Although the right to health of prisoners is broadly protected under human rights norms,
exercising these guarantees within the context of prisons is difficult. As described by Rieter,
‘‘Apart from being especially vulnerable by virtue of being detained, detainees generally are
an unpopular political cause . . . Consideration of their rights is not normally included in the
political process’’.90 The health rights of prisoners are therefore rarely a priority for political
leaders or the general public. Complicating this situation is the fact that ‘‘[n]one of the
relevant international or regional conventions define humane or inhumane treatment’’.91 As
a result, the generalised language used in the international treaties allows for significant
discretion in interpreting standards of humane treatment of prisoners, such as the provision
of medical care.
Although specific entitlements, including health guidelines, are codified in numerous
international resolutions and model standards, none enjoys the status of international law,
and are rather non-binding ‘‘soft law’’ instruments. The 1955 UN Standard Minimum Rules
on the Treatment of Prisoners,92 the 1979 UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials,93
the 1982 UN Principles of Medical Ethics, 94 the 1988 UN Body of Principles for the Protection
of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment,95 the 1990 UN Basic Principles for
the Treatment of Prisoners96 and the 1990 UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of
their Liberty97 all articulate standards of medical care for persons in detention. Each of these
instruments, and therefore the standards they define, has been adopted by the UN General
Assembly.98
While former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nigel Rodley suggests that instruments
such as the Standard Minimum Rules exert a ‘‘political or moral’’ influence,99 and others
argue that countries have at the very least an ethical obligation to observe such prison health
resolutions,100 none has a binding effect within international law. Ultimately, these are
aspirational, rather than prescriptive, standards and guidelines. They articulate neither
legally binding norms, nor particularly ambitious or high standards for states to achieve.101
That said, many of the specific principles and standards incorporated within these nonbinding instruments have found legal expression within international and domestic case
law. The Standard Minimum Rules, for example, has been cited by international human
rights bodies in finding countries in violation of prisoners’ rights norms, which clearly
illustrates the influential position they enjoy with jurists.102 The Body of Principles for the
Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment has similarly been cited
within the international jurisprudence, and used as a basis for defining standards of
detention within international law.103 In recent years, the reports of the European

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Committee on the Prevention of Torture have been regularly cited in prison jurisprudence
of the European Court of Human Rights.104
The influence of these non-binding instruments on the judgments of international human
rights bodies therefore creates the possibility that the standards they embody might evolve
from aspirational targets in to accepted legal norms. Indeed, a close review of the
jurisprudence on key areas of prison health illustrates a remarkable consistency between the
principles and standards articulated in the UN resolutions above, and the judgments of
international courts and human rights treaty bodies. This would suggest that, far from
articulating non-binding standards, in many cases these guidelines have become accepted
minimum legal requirements for governments to meet. The next section will explore this
case law, and examine those key areas of consensus on the right to health between nonbinding instruments and the international jurisprudence.
A right to medical care
As described in the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, ‘‘Prisoners shall have access
to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their
legal situation’’.105 The UN Principles of Medical Ethics state that all health personnel
working with prisoners ‘‘have a duty to provide them with . . . treatment of disease of the
same quality and standard as is afforded to those who are not imprisoned or detained’’.106
This principle is also supported by the non-binding European Prison Rules, adopted by the
Council of Europe.107
A review of the international jurisprudence demonstrates that the principle reflected in
these and other non-binding instruments also reflects the legal minimum standard within
international law under economic, social and cultural rights (the right to health), civil and
political rights (the right to life, the right to due process, the right to humane treatment) and
international humanitarian law (the Geneva Conventions). It is also the consensus view
expressed by UN human rights monitors.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stated explicitly that
‘‘States are under the obligation to respect the right to health by, inter alia, refraining from
denying or limiting equal access for all persons, including prisoners or detainees . . . [to]
curative and palliative health services’’.108 The Committee has expressed specific concern
about poor access to health care in prisons in Trinidad and Tobago,109 Brazil110 and
Yemen,111 in each case recommending that the countries take measures to improve medical
standards in detention to meet their obligations under the Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights.
The right to medical care is guaranteed to young persons in prison under the right to
health in Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.112 The Convention
details a series of areas in which states are obliged to take action in order to fulfil this right,
including the provision of primary health services.113 Although it has not been a major area
of the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the right to health of children and
young people in detention has been identified as a concern in several of the Committee’s
Concluding Observations examining state compliance with the terms of the treaty.114 The
Committee has expressed concern at ‘‘the lack of adequate basic services such as education
and health’’115 and called upon the state party to ‘‘ensure that all children deprived of their
liberty have statutory rights to . . . health’’.116
There have been three successful applications by prisoners to the African Commission on
Human and Peoples’ Rights, the independent body that monitors state compliance with the
African Charter, in which countries have been found in violation of the Charter’s right to

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health. In these cases, the approach of the Commission has been that the state obligation to
fulfil the right to health under Article 16 ‘‘is heightened in cases where an individual is in its
custody’’, as the person’s ‘‘integrity and well-being is completely dependent upon the
actions of the authorities’’.117
In the case of Free Legal Assistance Group and others v. Zaire, it was alleged that the military
engaged in a campaign of persecution against members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,
including arbitrary arrest and detention. The African Commission found a violation of the
right to health on grounds including inadequate medical treatment.118 In International PEN
and Others v. Nigeria, which concerned the case of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa,
the Commission found the government in violation of Article 16 for its failure to provide
Mr Saro-Wiwa with hospital care, despite the recommendation of a doctor. This failure
caused Saro-Wiwa’s ‘‘health to suffer to the point where his life was endangered’’.119 In the
most recent of the African Commission cases, Malawi African Association and others v.
Mauritania, a violation of the right to health was again found to include poor medical care.
In this case, the Commission noted that several prisoners died due to a lack of medical
attention.120
In domestic law, the South African Constitution enshrines a right to health care, as well
as specific guarantees to detainees and sentenced prisoners of the right ‘‘to conditions of
detention that are consistent with human dignity including . . . adequate . . . medical
treatment’’.121 Based upon these provisions, the right to medical care of prisoners has
been litigated before the South African courts.
In the case of Van Biljon and Others v. The Minister of Correctional Services, four prisoners
living with HIV/AIDS took a case to compel the prison authorities to provide them with
HIV anti-retroviral therapies. While the prison service argued that the cost of providing the
treatment was prohibitive, the High Court (Cape of Good Hope Provincial Division)
ordered that the medications be provided, but only for the two applicants for whom it had
been medically prescribed prior to the court action.122 In this decision, the Court found
that there was a higher obligation on the state to provide medical care for particularly
vulnerable prisoners, such as those living with HIV/AIDS, than there was to provide health
care for comparable patients outside of prisons.123 More recently, the High Court in
Durban in 2006 also found the failure of the state to provide medical care to HIV-positive
prisoners violated their right to health, and the judge ordered the authorities to provide HIV
anti-retroviral treatment for all medically qualifying prisoners.124
The right to medical care of persons in detention is also guaranteed under civil and
political rights. The UN Human Rights Committee, for example, has indicated that ‘‘the
right to . . . health of all detained persons’’ is engaged under Articles 6 (the right to life) and
7 (prohibition of torture) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the
obligation to ‘‘provide appropriate medical care to detainees’’ is engaged under Article 10
(prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment).125 As a result, the Committee has
affirmed that state responsibilities under the Covenant include ‘‘the provision of adequate
medical care during detention’’.126 It has specified that state obligations to provide medical
care to prisoners ‘‘extends to persons under the sentence of death’’.127 Given that even
those persons under the most severe penal sanction retain a fundamental right to medical
care, it follows that all persons under sentence, or indeed held without charge or in pre-trial
detention, must also retain this right. The Committee has been critical of poor standards of
prison medical care in a number of its Concluding Observations reviewing the compliance
of states with the obligations in the Covenant.128

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The right to medical care in prisons is guaranteed under the right to life. According to the
UN Human Rights Committee, ‘‘the State party by arresting and detaining individuals
takes the responsibility to care for their life’’.129 Because ‘‘the State party remains
responsible for the life and well-being of its detainees’’,130 it is therefore ‘‘incumbent on
States to ensure the right of life of detainees, and not incumbent on the latter to request
protection’’.131 This therefore demands the provision of adequate and pro-active medical
care.
The Human Rights Committee has considered several individual complaints addressing
prisoner medical care under the right to life. In Lantsova v. The Russian Federation, the
Committee found a violation of Article 6(1) where a man died in a detention centre in
Moscow. The prisoner’s mother, who took the case on behalf of her deceased son, alleged
that he was in good health when he entered the prison, but soon fell ill due to poor
conditions. It was claimed that the prisoner ‘‘received medical care only during the last few
minutes of his life’’ and ‘‘that the prison authorities had refused such care during the
preceding days and that this situation caused his death’’.132 The Committee found that the
failure of the authorities to provide a ‘‘properly functioning medical service’’ to diagnose
and treat the prisoner’s medical condition violated his right to life.133 Based on Lantsova, it
can be presumed that providing a ‘‘properly functioning medical service’’ in prisons is a
legal requirement of countries parties under the right to life in Article 6(1).
While Lantsova is the only application before the Human Rights Committee in which a
country has been found in violation of the right to health of prisoners based on Article 6
protections, there have been other attempts of note that were ruled inadmissible.134
Fabrikant v. Canada concerned a life-sentenced prisoner in Que´bec who had applied for,
and been denied, transfer to a prison in British Columbia. The applicant, who had a history
of heart problems, claimed the necessary surgical expertise to treat his condition was
unavailable in Que´bec. He argued that the refusal of his transfer constituted a failure ‘‘to
provide him with necessary and available medical treatment [and] threatens his right to life
under article 6’’.135 Although judging the application inadmissible, the Committee found
that under Article 6, ‘‘the State party remains responsible for the life and well-being of its
detainees’’.136 It has been suggested that this decision expands the positive obligations of
the state under the right to life ‘‘beyond taking reasonable steps to preserve a detainee’s life
to the taking of such steps to maintain an adequate standard of health’’,137 which would
include providing adequate medical services.
The European Court of Human Rights, the judicial body that considers alleged violations
under the European Convention of Human Rights, has also used the right to life under Article
2 of the European Convention as a mechanism to engage the right to health of prisoners,
including the right to medical treatment. According to the Court, the right to life ‘‘enjoins
the State not only to refrain from the intentional and unlawful taking of life, but also to take
appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction’’.138 In Edwards and
another v. United Kingdom, the failure of the state to provide medical care and health
screening systems in prison was found to violate Article 2.139 A violation of the right to life
was also found in a case of Tarariyeva v. Russia, where a prisoner died from post-surgical
complications after being transferred back to the prison from the public hospital. In that
case, the Court found that:
A further element decisive for the assessment of the adequacy of medical care at the
prison hospital is whether it possessed the necessary facilities to perform surgical

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interventions successfully and deal with post-operative complications. In the present case
it appears that such facilities were conspicuously lacking.140
In Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania, the African Commission found a
violation of the right to life in the African Charter, in part, due to lack of medical services for
detainees. In the case, in which four prisoners died following a lack of medical attention, the
Commission found, ‘‘Denying people . . . medical attention . . . constitutes a violation of
Article 4’’.141
The use of the right to life as a mechanism to engage the right to health has also occurred
on the domestic level. The Indian courts have interpreted the right to life in Article 21 of the
Indian Constitution in such a manner as to extend health rights to Indian citizens.
According to the Supreme Court of India in Consumer Education and Research Centre And
Others v. Union of India and Others, ‘‘The right to health . . . is an integral facet of meaningful
right to life . . . Therefore it must be held that the right to health and medical care is a
fundamental right under Article 21 . . . and is a minimum requirement to enable a person to
live with human dignity’’.142 While there has yet to be a case before the Indian Supreme
Court applying this precedent within the prison context, the Court takes the approach that,
‘‘prisoners retain all rights enjoyed by free citizens except those that are lost necessarily as an
incident of confinement’’.143 As a result, the right to health*including the provision of
medical services*would necessarily extend to persons in detention.
In addition to the right to life, the UN Human Rights Committee has stated that
‘‘inadequate care’’ in detention could also constitute a violation of Article 9 (the right to
liberty and security of the person) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.144
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the expert body that investigates and
reports on deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily, has also suggested that the failure of
the state to provide a proper standard of health care may violate Article 9, as well as Article
14, which outlines fair trial guarantees.145 The Working Group’s 2004 Annual Report
proposed that the failure to protect the health of pre-trial detainees could breach the right to
due process of law. Citing the fundamental legal principle known as ‘‘equality of arms’’,
under which the defence should never be placed at an unfair disadvantage in its ability to
present its case, the Working Group raised its concern that
A detainee who has to endure detention conditions that affect his or her health, safety or
well-being is participating in the proceedings in less favourable conditions than the
prosecution . . . Where conditions of detention are so inadequate as to seriously weaken
the pre-trial detainee and thereby impair equality, a fair trial is no longer ensured, even if
procedural fair-trial guarantees are otherwise scrupulously observed.146
In its 2003 report on Argentina, the Working Group specifically cited that health concerns
could violate fair trial guarantees. The Working Group observed that, ‘‘poor conditions in
the areas of . . . health . . . could, and in fact do, restrict the right of persons deprived of their
liberty to a proper defence during their trial.’’147
The Working Group’s 2004 Annual Report raised the further concern that holding pretrial detainees in poor conditions, such as those that promote illness or health decline,
violates protections against arbitrary detention. According to the report, ‘‘pre-trial
detention becomes arbitrary where the conditions are such as to create an incentive for
self-incrimination, or*even worse*to make pre-trial detention a form of advance
punishment in violation of the presumption of innocence’’.148 Such conditions include

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those in which a detainee’s health is compromised by a failure to provide adequate medical
services.
Support for this interpretation is also found in domestic jurisprudence. The High Court
of South Africa (Eastern Cape Division) invoked fair trial guarantees in S v. Zuba and 23
similar cases.149 Zuba concerned a group of juvenile detainees who were sentenced to a
reform school for youth but, due to the lack of such a facility in the region, spent long
periods of detention in prisons or police lock-ups waiting for spaces to become available in
reform schools in other regions so they might begin serving their sentences. Among the
reasons identified by the Court in ordering the release of the applicants was that their fair
trial rights had been violated.150 According to Judge Plasket, ‘‘the right to a fair trial must
include the right not to be subjected to a sentence substantially more severe than the one
imposed by the trial court’’.151 Although the judgment did not specifically invoke the right
to health, it has been proposed that the Court’s reasoning could be used to engage the right
to proper medical care in prisons.152
As the failure to provide medical treatment to a sick or injured prisoner inevitably and
unnecessarily exacerbates his or her pain and suffering, the right to medical care in prisons
is also engaged under the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. For
example, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which monitors
conditions of detention throughout the countries of the Council of Europe, has expressed
the view that ‘‘An inadequate level of health care can lead rapidly to situations falling within
the scope of the term ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’’’.153 The UN Human Rights
Committee has stated specifically that the right to health of prisoners could be engaged
under the right to humane treatment in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.154 The
related prohibition of torture (Article 7) in the Covenant has also been used by the Human
Rights Committee to address questions of prison medical care in some cases.155
Within the international jurisprudence, findings of inadequate medical treatment in this
regard are typically found in circumstances where a poor standard of health care is one of a
number of issues cumulatively assessed as being cruel, inhuman or degrading. There are
two general categories of cases that illustrate this point. The first are torture cases, in which
deliberate violence has been inflicted by state actors upon persons in detention. Findings of
human rights violations in these cases typically include criticism that the person was denied
medical attention to treat the injuries received as a consequence of the physical abuse.
A series of applications to the UN Human Rights Committee in the 1980s concerning the
ill-treatment of detained persons in Uruguay illustrates this type of case. The Committee’s
findings of violations of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights cited physical abuse or
torture, as well as the failure of prison authorities to provide subsequent medical assistance.
For example, in Setelich/Sendic v. Uruguay, the Committee found violations ‘‘of article 7 and
article 10 (1) because Raul Sendic . . . was subjected to torture for three months in 1978
and is being denied the medical treatment his condition requires’’.156 Many other cases fall
into this category. Pennant v. Jamaica, for example, found a violation where the applicant
‘‘was beaten while in police custody and did not receive medical treatment until the
committing magistrate ordered the police to take him to hospital’’.157
All the African Commission cases in which denial of medical care is cited in a finding of
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment occur in the context of physical abuse or beatings of
persons in detention.158 This is also true of much of the Inter-American human rights case
law, where ‘‘very deficient’’159 or ‘‘inadequate or unresponsive’’160 medical attention has
been cited by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, along with deliberate physical
abuse, as contributing to a finding of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

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The work of both the UN Committee against Torture, the independent expert body
which monitors state compliance with the obligations under the UN Convention against
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the UN Special
Rapporteur on Torture have focused on issues related to medical care for victims of torture.
The Special Rapporteur, for example, recommended that ‘‘Victims of torture and illtreatment receive . . . adequate medical treatment and rehabilitation’’.161 The Committee
has identified ‘‘lack of health care staff’’ among those ‘‘[p]oor prison conditions that affect
the health of both inmates and wardens’’.162 The Committee’s Concluding Observations on
state compliance of Belgium specifically recommended that the country ‘‘Improve the
system of access to health care in prisons’’.163
In addition to the torture cases, the other category of applications that generally cite
inadequate medical care are those in which health services are one of a list of prison
conditions that are cumulatively assessed to constitute inhumane or degrading treatment.
Much of this case law focuses on the issue of capital punishment.
A series of UN Human Rights Committee applications examining the death penalty in
Jamaica and in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, identified poor medical care as one of
many unacceptable conditions on death row cumulatively judged to violate the protections
in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.164 Absent deliberate physical abuse found in the
torture cases, lack of medical treatment in these cases was usually found to constitute
inhumane treatment rather than torture. In the jurisprudence of Inter-American human
rights system, there are also a significant number of death row cases in which poor
conditions of confinement, including deprivation of medical care, were found to constitute
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.165
The European Convention’s Article 3 prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment has
been used extensively to engage the right to health of prisoners. Like the right to life, the
prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment imposes positive obligations on states, and
the European Court has articulated these obligations in very clear terms.166 The Court has
affirmed that ‘‘the authorities are under an obligation to protect the health of persons
deprived of liberty and the lack of appropriate medical care may amount to treatment
contrary to art 3’’.167 According to Kudla v. Poland, Article 3 obligates the state to ensure a
prisoner’s ‘‘health and well-being are adequately secured by, among other things, providing
him with the requisite medical assistance’’.168 In Melnick v. Ukraine, the failure of prison
authorities to ‘‘diagnose and cure the applicant’s tuberculosis’’ was among the factors
contributing to a violation of Article 3.169
The prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment has also been used by
domestic courts to require the authorities to provide medical care in prisons. In Estelle v.
Gamble, the United States Supreme Court found that under ‘‘the evolving standards of
decency’’ that characterise the Court’s approach to interpreting Eighth Amendment
guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment, the state is obliged to provide medical
care for people in prison.170 Writing for the majority, Justice Thurgood Marshall affirmed
[T]he government’s obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by
incarceration. An inmate must rely on prison authorities to treat his medical needs; if the
authorities fail to do so, those needs will not be met. In the worst cases, such a failure may
actually produce physical ‘‘torture or a lingering death,’’ . . . In less serious cases, denial of
medical care may result in pain and suffering which no one suggests would serve any
penological purpose.171

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The international case law shows that the right to medical care of prisoners includes not just
general medicine, but also access to specialist treatment whether in the place of
imprisonment, or through transfer to a community health facility. The jurisprudence of
the UN Human Rights Committee includes cases where prison authorities have been
obligated to provide ophthalmologic and dental treatment,172 dermatology173 and treatment for allergies and asthma.174 This obligation also includes provision of medicines,175
including medications to relieve pain.176
The Special Rapporteur on Health has sent a number of individual communications to
countries expressing concern over the failure to provide treatment for diabetes,177 ‘‘chronic
asthma’’,178 kidney conditions,179 a ‘‘critical’’ heart condition,180 tuberculosis181 and dental
problems.182 The Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women has called for ‘‘timely
referrals and easy access to gynaecologists’’ for incarcerated women.183
The state must also provide prisoners with access to specialised medical treatment
outside of the prisons. In Levy v. Jamaica, the UN Human Rights Committee found a
violation of Article 10(1) where the applicant ‘‘should have had an operation on his jaw and
throat, but that the prison authorities made it impossible for him to keep his
appointment’’.184 In Simpson v. Jamaica, a prisoner was ‘‘refused specialized treatment’’
despite ‘‘an undiagnosed and untreated medical condition giving rise to symptoms of great
pain and swelling in his testicle’’, among other ailments.185 In Matthews v. Trinidad and
Tobago, ‘‘between 1990 and 1993, [the applicant] was denied attendance at an eye clinic . . .
on 14 occasions’’.186 On the other hand, in Henry and Douglas v. Jamaica, no violation of
Articles 7 or 10(1) was found because the prison authorities enabled the applicant to ‘‘visit
various hospitals and receive medical treatment for his cancer, including chemotherapy’’.187
Where the prison is unable to provide an adequate standard of medical care, the
European Court has found that*in exceptional cases*the person should be released. This
was the judgment in Price v. United Kingdom, in which the applicant was ‘‘four-limb
deficient as a result of phocomelia due to thalidomide’’188 and Mouisel v. France, in which
the prisoner was suffering from leukaemia.189 Indeed, the European Court takes the
approach that the state’s positive obligations to protect the well-being of detainees are
heightened when a prisoner is at increased vulnerability due to severe health concerns such
as physical disability.190
The UK courts have touched on the right to health of prisoners in considering the
question of the right to correspondence. In R (Szuluk) v. Governor, HMP Full Sutton, a
prisoner who had undergone surgery following a brain haemorrhage requested that medical
correspondence between himself and his external specialist be exempted from screening by
prison staff. Although the prison initially granted this request, it subsequently changed its
position and required the prison medical officer to read all such correspondence. As a
result, the prisoner took a case to the UK courts alleging an infringement of his rights under
Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence) of the
European Convention on Human Rights.191
The applicant won an initial case in 2004, when the judge ruled that the unique nature of
the case warranted prison authorities to invoke the discretion allowed within the prison
correspondence policy.
What makes this case special is the fact that this prisoner is suffering from a lifethreatening condition and is undergoing treatment outside the prison, and is in the need
of continual medical care . . . . In those circumstances, and making clear that this is a case

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which, in my view, turns specifically on its own exceptional facts, it is appropriate to grant
the relief sought.192
Although not specifically invoking a right to health, the reasoning of the judgment is clear
that the decision to allow the private correspondence was, in part, to ensure that the
prisoner was receiving a proper standard of medical treatment.
In this case the claimant is suffering from a life-threatening condition. He is undoubtedly,
in those circumstances, and understandably concerned to ensure that his treatment in
prison does not in any way affect him adversely. He wants, and understandably wants, to
obtain, if necessary, reassurance from his specialist and from other medical practitioners,
if there are any, who are involved in treating him.193
However, this judgment was later overturned on appeal, where the Court found ‘‘the
requirement that Mr Szuluk’s correspondence with Dr Renowden be read by the prison
medical officer was a proportionate interference with his Art 8 rights’’.194 However, the
appeals Court did not conclude that the prison has the right in all cases to screen a
prisoner’s medical correspondence, and left open ‘‘the possibility that in another case Art 8
will make it disproportionate to refuse to waive [the policy] in relation to medical
correspondence . . . [However] we do not consider that this is such a case’’.195
Medical care for detainees and prisoners, including interned civilians, is also guaranteed
in international humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions, particularly in Convention
(III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of
Civilians in Time of War. Article 13 specifies that Geneva III articulates specific medical
standards and protocols that must be observed by the Detaining Power, including access to
free medical services196 in ‘‘an adequate infirmary’’,197 regular medical inspections198 and
the right to be transferred to a civilian hospital for surgery or special treatment.199
Inadequate medical care for detainees in this regard was recently examined in the Limaj
Case before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.200 In addition to
physical abuse and torture of detainees and the Llapushnik/Lapusnik prison camp, the
defendants were accused of ‘‘maintaining and enforcing the inhumane conditions . . . which
included inadequate . . . medical care’’.201 Although medical care was ‘‘readily available’’ at
the camp,202 treatment was not provided, even to those who were injured while being taken
into custody, or beaten in detention.203 The Tribunal found that these conditions were
illegal, and contributed to the offence of cruel treatment.204
A right to timely medical attention
According to the Standard Minimum Rules, ‘‘The medical officer . . . should daily see all sick
prisoners, all who complain of illness, and any prisoner to whom his attention is specially
directed’’.205 The Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of
Detention or Imprisonment specifies that ‘‘medical care and treatment shall be provided
whenever necessary’’.206
The right to have medical attention provided to prisoners in a timely fashion is one
broadly supported as a legal requirement. Indeed, it is clear from the jurisprudence that
medical care for prisoners is only compliant with international law if it is available when
needed.
The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that under the Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, ‘‘Appropriate and timely medical care must be available to all detainees’’.207

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23

[Emphasis added.] The Committee found that in order to be compliant with obligations
under the right to life, health care must be available to diagnose and treat prisoners when
they are ill or otherwise in need of attention, as anything less than this does not constitute a
‘‘properly functioning medical service’’ within the terms of Article 6(1).208
Medical services found cruel, inhuman or degrading generally occur in a context where
the applicant is clearly in need of medical attention, such as following beatings or torture, or
when he or she is ill or injured. The failure to provide medical attention in this context,
which unnecessarily exacerbates the pain and suffering of the prisoner, may quickly lead to
treatment deemed inhuman or degrading.
In Leehong v. Jamaica, for example, the UN Human Rights Committee found violations
of Articles 7 and 10(1) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in part, because the
applicant had ‘‘only been allowed to see a doctor once, despite having sustained beatings by
warders and having requested medical attention’’.209 In Kalenga v. Zambia, Article 10(1)
was breached, in part, because of the ‘‘failure to provide medical assistance when needed’’.210
[Emphasis added.] In Bennett v. Jamaica, the Human Rights Committee was critical of the
fact that the applicant had not seen a doctor for several years.211
The obligation to provide timely medical attention can also be inferred from the regional
case law. In the Cantoral Benavides Case, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found
an Article 5 violation (the right to humane treatment), in part, because, ‘‘While being
transferred to these cells [the applicant] was beaten . . . [and] Upon his arrival, he received
no medical attention’’.212 In Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago, the prisoner ‘‘was not given the
necessary surgery until five or six years after the pertinent medical recommendation’’.213
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights provided more specificity in
characterising a standard of ‘‘inadequate medical care’’ as occurring when ‘‘visits from
the doctor are not regular and it is not clear whether [the applicant] will be able to see a
doctor when necessary’’.214
The European Court of Human Rights has stated that ‘‘lack of medical assistance in
circumstances where such assistance was not needed cannot, of itself, amount to a
violation of Article 3’’ (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment).215 That said, the
Court’s jurisprudence is clear that a failure to provide timely medical assistance when
needed may violate the European Convention.
For example, the Court found an Article 3 violation, in part, where a prisoner had not
seen a doctor for 18 months, even after taking part in a hunger strike. ‘‘In the Court’s view,
this cannot be deemed to be adequate and reasonable medical attention, given the hunger
strike and the diseases from which the applicant was suffering’’.216 In McGlinchy and Others
v. United Kingdom, the Court found a violation based on a much shorter delay in treatment,
when ‘‘a gap in the monitoring of [the prisoner’s] condition by a doctor over the weekend’’
resulted in a rapid decline of her health status, and later death.217 Iorgov v. Bulgaria cited
‘‘an unwarranted delay in providing adequate medical assistance’’ as contributing to a
violation of Article 3.218
In Istrath and Others v. Moldova, the Court found that the prisoner ‘‘was not given timely
medical assistance’’219 and that ‘‘the failure to provide immediate medical assistance to the
applicant in an emergency situation’’ contributed to a violation of Article 3.220 On the other
hand, in Aliev v. Ukraine, the Court found that the health standards in the prison did not
violate Article 3 because, in part, ‘‘the applicant received medical assistance when he
complained about health problems’’.221
The European Court has also found that, where a prisoner has a serious medical
condition, timely medical care can include regular access to specialised diagnostic care. In

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the case of Popov v. Russia, where the prisoner had a history of bladder cancer and had
previously undergone chemotherapy, the Court concluded ‘‘that the minimum scope of
medical supervision required . . . included regular examinations by a uro-oncologist and
cystoscopy at least once a year’’.222 In that case, the fact that the prisoner had received
neither examination in the one year and nine months of his incarceration was found to
contribute to inhuman and degrading treatment, and therefore a violation of Article 3.223
Timely medical attention in the European Court’s jurisprudence also extends to access to
treatment. In Paladi v. Moldova, the Court expressed concern at the delay in initiating
recommended treatment, and found that the interruption of the treatment once it had been
initiated amounted to a violation of Article 3.224
The Special Rapporteur on Health has expressed concern over the failure of prison
authorities to provide ‘‘prompt and adequate medical treatment’’.225 The Special
Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has specifically recommended ‘‘timely referrals
and easy access to gynaecologists’’ for incarcerated women.226
This principle is also supported within international humanitarian law. In the Limaj Case,
the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found that although medical
care was ‘‘readily available’’ at the Llapushnik/Lapusnik prison camp, the failure to make it
available to treat detainees in need of medical assistance was illegal.227
A right to preventative health
Prison health standards and declarations of the WHO228 and the World Medical
Association229 state that prisoners must be provided with measures to prevent the
transmission of disease. Non-binding resolutions of the Council of Europe also state
that, ‘‘respect for the fundamental rights of prisoners entails the provision to prisoners of
preventive treatment’’.230 The UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty
specifies that all juvenile detainees shall receive preventive health care.231 This agreed
medical standard found throughout the non-binding instruments is also reflected as a legal
norm in the international case law, one which obligates states to take measures to prevent
the spread of disease within prisons.
In its 1997 Concluding Observations on the Russian Federation, the Committee on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed specific concern ‘‘over the re-emergence of
tuberculosis . . . particularly in prisons, where the health and social conditions of detention
are unacceptable.’’232 This concern was repeated in the Committee’s 2003 Concluding
Observations.233 In its 2003 report on Moldova, the Committee expressed ‘‘alarm’’ about
TB in prisons, citing an ‘‘infection rate . . . more than 40 times higher than the national
average’’.234 In both cases, the Committee recommended that the states take steps to
‘‘combat’’ the spread of TB in prisons, which indicates an obligation under the Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to implement preventative health programmes in
prisons.235
Article 24 (the right to health) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates states
to implement preventative health initiatives in order to fulfil the right to health of children
and adolescents, a universal right that extends to children and young people in detention.236
The right to preventative health measures is also engaged under civil and political rights
mechanisms. The UN Human Rights Committee’s jurisprudence indicates that the failure
to take steps to prevent the spread of diseases in prisons, such as tuberculosis, may violate
Articles 6, 7, 9 and 10 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.237 For example, in its
2002 Concluding Observations on Moldova, the Committee noted that the ‘‘the spread of

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25

contagious diseases’’ could amount to a violation of Article 9 (the right to liberty and
security of the person).238
This issue has also been addressed in the domestic jurisprudence of some countries. The
Irish Courts have engaged this question in considering whether poor conditions of
confinement render the detention itself unlawful under Article 40 of the Irish Constitution.
In The State v. Frawley, for example, the Court found that prisoners enjoy the right to have
their health protected.239 According to the Court, ‘‘When the executive . . . imprisons an
individual in pursuance of a lawful warrant of a court then it seems to me to be a logical
extension of the principle . . . that it may not, without justification or necessity, expose the
health of that person to risk or danger.’’240 This would imply the obligation to take measures
to protect prisoners from being exposed to or contracting contagious diseases.
In the South African jurisprudence, the judgment on S v. Zuba and 23 similar cases may
also be interpreted to engage the right to preventative health measures under rights of due
process. Using principle articulated in the decision that ‘‘the right to a fair trial must include
the right not to be subjected to a sentence substantially more severe than the one imposed
by the trial court’’,241 Steinberg suggests that, ‘‘An HIV-positive accused might argue that
being detained in an overcrowded facility would expose him to an unreasonable risk of
contracting opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis.’’242
However, not all domestic courts have been proactive in enforcing the right to
preventative health. Both the UK243 and Australian244 courts have failed to order prison
officials to provide condoms to prisoners as an HIV prevention measure. The Scottish
courts also dismissed an attempt by a prisoner to compel prison authorities to provide
access to sterile injecting equipment such as syringes to prevent the spread of HIV and
hepatitis C among people who inject drugs in prisons.245 These cases illustrate that in the
controversial area of HIV prevention, which necessitates action to address health risks
resulting from sexual activity and drug use in prisons, the domestic courts may be less
inclined to force sweeping policy changes upon state authorities.246
State obligation to provide preventative health measures in prisons has also been engaged
under the right to life. In Cabal and Pasini Bertran v. Australia, the applicants claimed their
right to health was placed in ‘‘serious jeopardy’’ as a result of incarceration alongside
prisoners with communicable diseases, including those suspected of having tuberculosis.247
Although finding the application inadmissible, the UN Human Rights Committee affirmed
that ‘‘a failure to separate detainees with communicable diseases from other detainees could
raise issues primarily under articles 6, paragraph 1’’.248 This indicates a state responsibility
to take steps to protect non-infected prisoners from contracting contagious diseases.
The UN Human Rights Committee’s 2002 Concluding Observations on Moldova noted
that it was ‘‘particularly disturbed at the prevalence of disease, notably tuberculosis’’ in
prisons and, in that context, reminded the government of ‘‘its obligation to ensure the
health and life of all persons deprived of their liberty’’ and that the ‘‘[d]anger to the health
and lives of detainees as a result of the spread of contagious diseases . . . amounts to a
violation of article 10 of the Covenant and may also include a violation of articles 9 and
6.’’249 This suggests that taking action to prevent disease transmission in prisons is part of
state obligations under the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The European Court has also indicated that states are under an obligation to prevent the
spread of disease in prisons. In Pantea v. Romania, the Court stated that Article 3 of the
European Convention ‘‘compels the authorities . . . to take the practical preventive measures
necessary to protect the physical integrity and the health of persons who have been deprived
of their liberty.’’250 In Melnick v. Ukraine, the European Court found an Article 3 violation,

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in part, for the failure to ‘‘prevent . . . the applicant’s tuberculosis’’ while he was in
prison.251 In Staykov v. Bulgaria, the Court found the fact that ‘‘the applicant fell ill with
tuberculosis’’ while in prison, along with a finding that ‘‘the prison authorities’ prevention
efforts were inadequate’’ among the factors contributing to a violation of Article 3.252
Health decline, or the contracting of disease, while in detention may also be judged as
evidence that the overall prison regime is inhuman or degrading.253 Therefore, it can be
argued that countries have an obligation to prevent the transmission of diseases in prisons in
order to remain human rights compliant.
In Benediktov v. Russia, the European Court found it ‘‘most probable’’ that the applicant
was infected with hepatitis C while in prison. While this in and of itself did not constitute a
violation of Article 3, particularly as the prisoner was given effective treatment, the Court
considered it a contributing factor to its finding that the overall conditions of confinement
were degrading.254
In Kalashnikov v. Russia, the fact that the applicant contracted a series of skin and fungal
infections while incarcerated was an element cited by the Court in finding the state in
violation of Article 3.255 Similarly, in Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine, the Court found that the
applicant’s contracting scabies and eczema in prison ‘‘demonstrate[s] that he was detained
in an unsanitary environment, with no respect for basic hygiene’’.256 The UN Human
Rights Committee257 and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights258 have also cited
health decline or the contracting of diseases in detention as contributing to overall prison
conditions that are cruel, inhuman or degrading.
A right to mental health care
The Standard Minimum Rules specify that all prisons should have a psychiatric service to
diagnose and treat mental illness.259 The requirement that mental health services be
provided to prisoners is codified in a number of non-binding instruments on prison health,
including the European Prison Rules260 and Recommendation 1235 (1994) on Psychiatry and
Human Rights of the Council of Europe.261
The Special Rapporteur on Health has expressed concern that prisoners with mental
illness are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations.262 Indeed, international courts
and treaty bodies have articulated clear legal standards for the humane treatment of persons
with mental illness in detention. Many of the standards for mental health care in prisons
outlined in the non-binding instruments above are reflected within this jurisprudence.
Given the unique vulnerability of persons with mental illness in detention, the state’s
positive obligations to ensure their humane treatment, and to protect their well-being, are
heightened. The European Court, for example, has stated that, ‘‘the position of inferiority
and powerlessness which is typical of patients confined in psychiatric hospitals calls for
increased vigilance in reviewing whether the Convention has been complied with’’.263 As a
result,
[T]he assessment of whether the treatment or punishment concerned is incompatible
with the standards of Article 3 has, in the case of mentally ill persons, to take into
consideration their vulnerability and their inability, in some cases, to complain coherently
or at all about how they are being affected by any particular treatment.264
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also takes the approach that the state’s
obligations to ensure the well-being of persons in detention are heightened when a prisoner
is mentally ill.265

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27

The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that under the Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, ‘‘the State party is under an obligation to provide . . . appropriate . . .
psychiatric care’’.266 As with general medical care, mental health care must be available and
provided in a timely fashion in order to be consistent with human rights law. The
Committee has found violations where ‘‘no psychiatric treatment was available in the
prison’’267 and where there was a failure to provide an adequate psychiatric examination
despite the evidence of the prisoner’s declining state.268 In its Concluding Observations on
Belgium, the Committee criticised delays in providing mentally ill prisoners with proper
care. ‘‘The practice of keeping psychiatric patients in prison psychiatric annexes for several
months before transferring them to hospitals that treat mental disorders is incompatible
with articles 7 and 9 of the Covenant and should be discontinued’’.269
In the European system, the failure of the state to provide adequate standards of mental
health care in detention was found to violate the right to life in Article 2 of the European
Convention. In Edwards and another v. United Kingdom, two mentally ill persons were
arrested separately and placed in the same prison cell. One of the men was later beaten to
death by the other. In finding that the applicant’s Article 2 rights had been violated, the
Court cited ‘‘the failure of the agencies involved in this case (medical profession, police,
prosecution and court) to pass on information . . . to the prison authorities and the
inadequate nature of the screening process’’ in the police station and the prison.270
[T]he Court considers that it is self-evident that the screening process of the new arrivals
in a prison should serve to identify effectively those prisoners who require for their own
welfare or the welfare of other prisoners to be placed under medical supervision. The
defects in the information provided to the prison admissions staff were combined in this
case with the brief and cursory nature of the examination carried out by a screening
health worker who was . . . inadequately trained and acting in the absence of a doctor to
whom recourse could be made in the case of difficulty or doubt.271
Based upon Edwards, the failure to provide adequate mental health screening procedures to
identify vulnerable prisoners, and then place them under psychiatric supervision appropriate to their needs, violates the European Convention.
The European Court has gone further in identifying lawful standards of mental health
provision. Proper mental health care in prisons must include adequate written record
keeping and monitoring of patients, and be carried out by properly qualified staff.
According to the European Court, a ‘‘lack of effective monitoring of [the applicant’s]
condition and the lack of informed psychiatric input into his assessment and treatment
disclose significant defects in the medical care provided to a mentally ill person’’.272 In
Rohde v. Denmark, a standard of monitoring found consistent with state obligations under
Article 3 was described as one where the applicant ‘‘was attended to by medical staff
automatically and regularly’’, and that the staff ‘‘reacted promptly and increased their
observation . . . whenever he showed any change in mood or behaviour’’.273
As is the case with general health decline, deterioration of mental health while in custody
may be considered an indication that the overall prison conditions are cruel, inhuman or
degrading, and therefore in violation of international law. In Williams v. Jamaica, the UN
Human Rights Committee’s finding of an Article 10 violation was, in part, based on the fact
that the applicant’s ‘‘mental condition seriously deteriorated during his incarceration on
death row’’.274 In the 2006 report on conditions for detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, the
UN Special Rapporteurs involved in the investigation similarly found the decline in mental
health of the prisoners to be an indicator of broader human rights violations. According to

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the report, ‘‘The totality of the conditions of their confinement at Guantanamo Bay
constitute a right-to-health violation because they derive from a breach of duty and have
resulted in profound deterioration of the mental health of many detainees’’.275
The Special Rapporteur on Health has expressed concern on several occasions about
poor standards of mental health care in prisons. The Special Rapporteur’s 2004 Annual
Report generally criticised ‘‘abusive treatment of mental health patients’’ in prison.276 In
the Report of his 2005 Mission to Peru, the Special Rapporteur specifically recommended
that, ‘‘Appropriate mental health services be made available to persons in detention’’.277
The Special Rapporteur has expressed concern about inadequate mental health care, as well
as prison conditions that exacerbate mental illness including the use of restraints, in several
individual communications with states.278
A right to a professional standard of care
The Standard Minimum Rules specify that ‘‘at least one qualified medical officer’’ will be
available in every prison,279 a requirement echoed in the European Prison Rules.280 The
Principles of Medical Ethics281 and Council of Europe Recommendation 1235 (1994) on
Psychiatry and Human Rights282 specify that standards of mental health care must meet
acceptable professional standards. A review of the jurisprudence makes clear that prisoners
have a right to a professional standard of heath service provided by qualified medical
personnel. States that fall short of this threshold in the provision of medical or mental
health care risk violating their obligations under international law.
In Robinson v. Jamaica, the UN Human Rights Committee criticised the fact ‘‘that there
is no doctor, leaving warders with very limited training to treat medical problems’’.283 In
this case, the provision of unqualified ‘‘medical’’ staff with limited training was insufficient
to meet state obligations to ensure humane treatment. In its Concluding Observations on
Portugal, the Committee recommended that ‘‘[The State] should guarantee that detainees
are monitored daily by fully qualified medical staff during solitary confinement’’.284 The
Committee is again clear that the qualifications of the staff are relevant in considering
whether a state party is meeting its obligations under the Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights. On the other hand, the European Court has found that the health care received by a
prisoner did not violate Article 3 prohibitions on inhuman or degrading treatment, in part,
because ‘‘medical examinations were carried out by qualified and authorised professionals’’.285 This again indicates that the provision of professional and qualified medical
staff is necessary to meet human rights obligations.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified ‘‘the lack of adequate basic
services such as education and health, [including] the absence of adequately trained staff’’
as a matter of concern in its Concluding Observations on state compliance with the
treaty.286 This would indicate that the obligation to provide qualified medical staff includes
juvenile detention facilities.
Lack of qualified staff has also been highlighted by UN Special Rapporteurs. The Special
Rapporteur on Health has expressed concern where ‘‘the prison [medical] clinics are too
poorly equipped in terms of staff, equipment and medicines to deal with even basic
complaints’’.287 Following her mission to US prisons, the Special Rapporteur on Violence
Against Women recommended that, ‘‘A qualified doctor should be on the premises for 24
hours’’.288

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A right to informed consent and to refuse treatment
Given the vulnerability of persons in detention to coercion, the issue of informed consent to
medical treatment and the right to refuse treatment are particularly resonant. Non-binding
standards of prison health care are clear that people in prison must provide informed
consent before undergoing treatment. The WHO states that, ‘‘Prisoners should have access
to information on treatment options and the same right to refuse treatment as exists in the
community’’.289 This includes not only medical and drug treatments, but also undergoing
medical testing, such as that for HIV infection.290 This position was recently affirmed in a
joint policy framework on addressing HIV/AIDS in prisons produced by the WHO in
collaboration with UNAIDS and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.291
The 1988 UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention
or Imprisonment state that prisoners have the right to request a second medical opinion,
although the granting of such a request is discretionary and subject to ‘‘reasonable
conditions to ensure security and good order in the place of detention or imprisonment’’.292
The 1990 UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty indicate that
informed consent is preferable ‘‘when possible’’ before administering medicines, although
due to the varying levels of competence among juveniles, it may not be absolutely
obligatory, in particular where a treatment is considered by health staff acting independently as being in the best interest of the juvenile patient.293
Within the international human rights case law, issues of consent to treatment have been
considered under the right to health and the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment. The consensus is that while people in prison have a right to consent and a right
to refuse treatment, these rights are subject to some specific limitations.
According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to
health includes the ‘‘right to be free from . . . non-consensual medical treatment’’.294 The
Committee articulates a limited qualification to this right, specifically in the case of mental
illness and disease control. It describes the
State’s obligation to refrain from . . . applying coercive medical treatments, unless on an
exceptional basis for the treatment of mental illness or the prevention and control of
communicable diseases. Such exceptional cases should be subject to specific and
restrictive conditions, respecting best practices and applicable international standards,
including the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the
Improvement of Mental Health Care.295
In his 2004 Annual Report, the Special Rapporteur on Health specifically highlighted
concerns over ‘‘non-consensual medical treatment’’.296 In a 2005 communication with the
Government of North Korea, the Special Rapporteur raised concern over allegations of
forcible abortions on pregnant incarcerated women.297 This would indicate that women
prisoners have the right to refuse such invasive medical procedures. The UN Committee on
the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has also been critical of coerced
gynaecological examinations of women prisoners.298
The UN Special Rapporteurs investigating conditions at Guantanamo Bay take a
position consistent with that of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights. In their joint report, the Rapporteurs state that:
From the perspective of the right to health, informed consent to medical treatment is
essential, as is its ‘logical corollary’ the right to refuse treatment. A competent detainee,

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no less than any other individual, has the right to refuse treatment. In summary, treating a
competent detainee without his or her consent*including force-feeding*is a violation of
the right to health, as well as international ethics for health professionals.’’299
In its use of the qualification ‘‘competent detainee’’, the Special Rapporteurs suggest that,
in keeping with the Committee’s view, the right to refuse treatment may be limited in cases
where the person is judged ‘‘incompetent’’, presumably as a result of mental illness.
However, in such a case the human rights protections afforded prisoners with mental illness
would be engaged.
This approach taken under the right to health in the case of persons judged mentally
incompetent is mirrored in the Article 3 jurisprudence of the European Court of Human
Rights, which contains the most detailed examination of this issue. The European Court
adopts the approach that ‘‘a measure which is of therapeutic necessity from the point of
view of established principles of medicine cannot in principle be regarded as inhuman and
degrading’’;300 however, ‘‘The Court must nevertheless satisfy itself that the medical
necessity has been convincingly shown to exist’’.301
Therefore, according to the interpretation of the Court, if a physician can sufficiently
justify that the treatment of the person judged mentally incompetent is both necessary and
in conformity with established medical practice, it can be administered without consent.
According to the Court in Herczegfalvy v. Austria,
The Court considers that the position of inferiority and powerlessness which is typical of
patients confined in psychiatric hospitals calls for increased vigilance in reviewing
whether the Convention has been complied with. While it is for the medical authorities to
decide, on the basis of the recognised rules of medical science, on the therapeutic
methods to be used, if necessary by force, to preserve the physical and mental health of
patients who are entirely incapable of deciding for themselves and for whom they are
therefore responsible, such patients nevertheless remain under the protection of Article
3.302
However, the method by which the compulsory treatment takes place must be consistent
with Article 3 protections against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.303
This is also the Court’s approach to force-feeding of prisoners, as the practice ‘‘is aimed
at saving the life of a particular detainee who consciously refuses to take food’’.304 However,
like medical treatments, the state has an obligation to show that the force-feeding is
‘‘medically necessary’’ otherwise it can amount to torture under Article 3.305 Indeed, in
both Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine306 and Ciorap v. Moldova307 the state was found guilty of
torture for force-feeding the applicants without proving medical necessity. This raises the
possibility that non-consensual treatment, particularly if administered in a forceful or
violent manner, could be found to reach the threshold of torture.308
Questions of informed-consent to medical procedures in prisons has also been examined
in domestic case law. For example, in C v. Minister of Correctional Services, the South African
Court found that the rights of a prisoner had been violated where he had been tested for
HIV without providing proper consent.309 This reinforces the right of prisoners to refuse
medical treatments, including medical testing.

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A right to environmental health
In addition to medical care and mental health services, a third element affecting the
fulfillment of the right to health of prisoners is the environment within the prison itself.
Indeed, the issue of healthy or unhealthy living conditions has particular resonance in
considering the issue of prisoners’ health, as overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions
and poor food and water standards are common in prisons worldwide. While such
conditions are typically considered to be violations of the right to dignity or humane
treatment, they clearly have implications on the right to health. As described by the World
Medical Association,
Overcrowding, lengthy confinement within closed, poorly lit, badly heated and
consequently poorly ventilated and often humid spaces are all conditions frequently
associated with imprisonment and which contribute to the spread of disease and illhealth. Where these factors are combined with poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition and
limited access to adequate health care, prisons can represent a major public health
challenge. Keeping prisoners in [such] conditions . . . expose them to substantial medical
risk.310
As with medical care and mental health care, questions of environmental health are engaged
under economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights.
According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to
health as defined in Article 12 is:
an inclusive right extending not only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the
underlying determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and adequate
sanitation, an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, [and] healthy . . .
environmental conditions.311
Some legal scholars have suggested the right to health, as it has come to be codified,
includes not only the right to healthcare services, but also to the ‘‘underlying preconditions
of health, such as occupational health, environmental health, clean drinking water, and
adequate sanitation’’,312 a conclusion shared by the Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights313 and found within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.314
The right to a healthy living environment in prisons is also engaged by Article 11(1) of the
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which enshrines the right to adequate
housing.315 As described in General Comment No. 4 of the UN Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, which provides a detailed and authoritative interpretation of the
meaning of Article 11, housing is ‘‘the environmental factor most frequently associated with
conditions for disease . . . [and] inadequate and deficient housing and living conditions are
invariably associated with higher mortality and morbidity rates’’.316 The Committee defines
‘‘adequate housing’’ to include adequate privacy, space, security, lighting and ventilation,317
safe drinking water, heating, sanitation and washing facilities,318 and protection from
dampness or ‘‘other threats to health’’.319 All of these factors have particular relevance to
the relationship between prison conditions and the health status of prisoners, as the lack of
any of these factors has the potential to negatively affect the physical and/or mental health of
people in detention.
The right to a healthy living environment is also engaged under civil and political rights
mechanisms. Some legal scholars have argued that that the right to life inherently includes a

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requirement to provide the necessary elements for survival, such as food, water and
shelter.320 Such an approach would therefore imply a positive obligation to address
environmental health issues under the right to life.
The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed concern about environmental health
issues in a number of Concluding Observations on state compliance with the terms of the
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.321 In these cases, the Committee has made clear that
it views issues such as overcrowding and poor sanitation within a health context. The
Committee’s Concluding Observations on Moldova, for example, noted that it was
‘‘particularly disturbed at the prevalence of disease, notably tuberculosis, which is a direct
result of prison conditions’’, adding that such conditions potentially violate Articles 6, 9 and
10 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.322 The European Court recently found that
the obligation to provide proper environmental conditions is heightened when a prisoner
has health conditions that required ‘‘extensive medical treatment’’.323 The Special
Rapporteur on Torture has also addressed the impact of poor environmental conditions,
noting that ‘‘overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and hygiene, lack of food and medical
assistance, not only may put at risk the physical integrity of detainees, but have far-reaching
consequences on their mental integrity’’.324
International humanitarian law also addresses the right to a healthy environment for
Prisoners of War and for Civilian internees. Both Geneva III (Prisoners of War) and Geneva
IV (Civilians) contains numerous prohibitions against housing prisoners in conditions
detrimental to their health, and obligates the Detaining Power ‘‘to take all sanitary measures
necessary to ensure the cleanliness and healthfulness of camps and to prevent epidemics’’.325 Under the terms of Geneva III, prisoners are entitled to adequate food, water
and clothing,326 facilities to maintain personal cleanliness and hygiene,327 and are to be
protected against overcrowding328 and extremes of climate.329
According to the Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, the failure to
provide prison accommodation that provides, among other things, adequate space, lighting,
ventilation, food and hygiene can be detrimental to the health of persons in detention.330
There is also a growing body of international jurisprudence finding that poor environmental
conditions in prisons, with potential negative consequences on the health of detainees,
constitute a violation of international law.
A right to adequate living space
People in prison have the right to an amount of living space sufficient to safeguard their
health. The UN Human Rights Committee considers that a lack of adequate living space
not only contributes to a violation of the right to dignity and humane treatment, but also to
conditions that breach the rights to life and health. For example, the Committee has noted
concerns over, ‘‘The recurring problems of overcrowding and poor health and sanitary
conditions in many prisons, which are incompatible with article 10, paragraph 1, of the
Covenant’’ and the resultant need ‘‘to reduce overcrowding and to upgrade prison facilities
as quickly as possible’’.331
The Human Rights Committee has identified ‘‘overcrowding’’ as a condition ‘‘which
contribute[s] to a high level of death in custody’’.332 In its Concluding Observations on
Georgia, the Committee listed ‘‘crowding’’ among those factors that ‘‘have resulted in a
high rate of infectious disease and a very alarming mortality rate, particularly among
juvenile detainees’’.333 In Concluding Observations on Mongolia, the Committee cited lack
of ‘‘adequate space’’ among those conditions that should be improved ‘‘to ensure that
imprisonment does not damage prisoners’ health’’.334

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The Committee has found state violations in a number of individual applications related
to overcrowded prison conditions.335 In Lantsova v. The Russian Federation, overcrowding
was found to violate Article 10(1), and therefore also Article 6(1), as the prisoner ‘‘lost his
life as a direct result of the existing prison conditions’’.336
The UN Committee against Torture has also identified ‘‘serious overcrowding’’ as one of
the ‘‘[p]oor prison conditions that affect the health of both inmates and wardens’’.337 The
Special Rapporteur on Torture has noted the impact of overcrowding on health, stating
that, ‘‘overcrowding exacerbates the inability of the staff to provide adequate . . . health care
to the detainees. It also makes it difficult to prevent the spread of infectious diseases’’.338
Overcrowding was included among the environmental factors described by the Special
Rapporteur as ‘‘health-damaging conditions’’ that ‘‘effectively subjects inmates to disease’’.339 The Special Rapporteur on Health has also expressed concern that ‘‘Prison
conditions*such as overcrowding, [and] lack of privacy . . . tend to exacerbate mental
disabilities’’.340
The African Commission on Human Rights has expressed concerns about insufficient
living space in prisons in several cases,341 including John D Ouko v. Kenya in which it cited
detention in ‘‘a two by three metre basement cell’’ as constituting inhumane treatment.342
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found Article 5 (the right to humane
treatment) violations where detainees were held ‘‘in a damp underground cell measuring
approximately 15 square meters with 16 other prisoners’’343 and where a prisoner was held
in a cell ‘‘with 4 or 5 other men’’, forcing him to sleep on the floor.344 Trinidad and Tobago
was found in breach because, among other things, the ‘‘victims suffered from serious
overcrowding, which forced them to sleep sitting or standing up’’.345 The Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights has also found prison overcrowding to constitute a
component of an Article 5 violation.346
The European Court has cited overcrowding in a series of Article 3 cases from States
including Russia,347 Bulgaria,348 Lithuania,349 Estonia,350 Greece351 and Ukraine.352 The
Court has stated that a situation of ‘‘continuously, severely overcrowded [cells] . . . in itself
raises an issue under Article 3’’.353 In Karalevicˇius v. Lithuania, the Court was clear that it
‘‘considers the extreme lack of space as a central factor in its analysis of compliance of the
applicant’s detention conditions with Article 3’’.354 The Court has also been clear that a
lack of resources or other systemic factors do not absolve the state from its obligations to
house prisoners in conditions compliant with Article 3.
Irrespective of the reasons for the overcrowding, the Court considers that it is incumbent
on the respondent Government to organise its penitentiary system in such a way as to
ensure respect for the dignity of detainees, regardless of financial or logistical
difficulties.355
In the Limaj Case, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia identified
overcrowding as one of the ‘‘cause[s of] serious mental and physical suffering’’ for
detainees, and therefore contributing to the offence of cruel treatment.356
A right to hygienic living conditions
The failure of the state to provide proper toilet or washing facilities, or clean living
conditions, can not only negatively affect the health of detainees, but potentially breach
international law.

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The African Commission on Human Rights has found that such poor environmental
conditions in prisons can violate the right to health under the African Charter. In Malawi
African Association and others v. Mauritania, a violation of Article 16 was found, in part, due
to inadequate hygiene in the prison.357 The UN Special Rapporteur on Health expressed
concern about unhygienic living conditions that contributed to the death of 12 prisoners
and the hospitalisation of 40 others in Myanmar. The Special Rapporteur specifically
identified a ‘‘sewage system in the prison [that] may have facilitated the spread of disease’’
among the causes of the poor health conditions.358
However, the majority of the cases where poor standards of hygiene and sanitation have
been found to violate international law have engaged civil and political rights mechanisms,
particularly the right to humane treatment. ‘‘Lack of’’ or ‘‘poor’’ sanitary facilities in prisons
have been cited by the UN Human Rights Committee as contributing to both deaths in
custody and high rates of infectious diseases.359 It has also identified ‘‘lack of . . . sanitation’’
as a condition that might ‘‘damage prisoners’ health’’.360 In its Concluding Observations on
Georgia, the Committee noted that where environmental conditions are so poor as to
violate Article 10, the state party might also potentially breach Articles 6 (the right to life)
and 7 (the prohibition of torture).361
The Human Rights Committee has cited unhygienic conditions that affect health as
contributing to findings of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in a number of individual
applications.362 In Marshall v. Jamaica, for example, the conditions described were
‘‘unsanitary, with waste sewage and a constant smell pervading the prison . . . and that
the inmates are required to share utensils which are not cleaned properly . . . The author
contends that the conditions have caused serious detriment to his health’’.363 In Sextus v.
Trinidad and Tobago, specific hygiene concerns cited included ‘‘The location of the prison
food-preparation area, around 2 metres from where the prisoners empty their slop pails
[which] creates an obvious health hazard.’’364 The Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights cited a similar concern where the placement of ‘‘the prisoners’ washing facilities and
‘excrement well’ . . . in the same location’’.365
‘‘[D]irty’’366 or ‘‘airless and dirty’’367 cells, or forcing detainees to live ‘‘in very bad
conditions of hygiene’’368, have been condemned by the African Commission Human
Rights in Article 5 petitions. Prison conditions described as ‘‘unhygienic’’ have been found
to contribute to breaches by the Inter-American Court369 and Commission,370 while
detention in an ‘‘unsanitary environment, with no respect for basic hygiene’’ has been found
to contribute to Article 3 violations by the European Court.371 In Melnick v. Ukraine, the
European Court specific found ‘‘that the applicant’s conditions of hygiene and sanitation
were unsatisfactory and would have contributed to the deterioration of his poor health’’.372
The presence of insects, rodents or other vermin has been singled out for criticism by the
European Court,373 the African Commission374 and the UN Human Rights Committee375
in this context.
The failure to provide proper and sanitary toilet facilities is another prison condition that
has been found to contribute to unhygienic conditions, and treatment deemed cruel,
inhuman or degrading. The UN Human Rights Committee has found violations in a
number of applications that concern the use of ‘‘a bucket’’,376 ‘‘a plastic pail’’377 or ‘‘a hole
in the ground’’378 as a toilet. In Marshall v. Jamaica, the applicant complained of the
‘‘unhygienic practice of using slop buckets which are filled with human waste and stagnant
water and only are emptied in the morning.’’379 In its Concluding Observations on
Mongolia, the Committee included poor sanitation among the conditions that should be
improved ‘‘to ensure that imprisonment does not damage prisoners’ health’’.380 Similar

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35

violations have been cited in cases before the Inter-American Commission381 and Court,382
the European Court383 and the African Commission.384
As discussed above, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has cited
environmental health issues, including poor sanitation, as potentially violating fair trial
guarantees. In the Working Group’s estimation, ‘‘A detainee who has to endure detention
conditions that affect his or her health, safety or well-being is participating in the [court]
proceedings in less favourable conditions than the prosecution’’.385 Within domestic
jurisprudence, poor hygiene and lack of proper sanitation facilities sufficient to engage the
right to health have been cited in challenges to the lawfulness of detention under Article 40
of the Irish Constitution. In The State (Richardson) v. The Governor of Mountjoy Prison, the
applicant alleged that her detention was unlawful due to the poor conditions in which she
was confined, particularly the inadequate toilet and sanitary facilities. In the case, the Court
found that the government has a ‘‘duty under the Constitution . . . to protect the
[applicant’s] health and to provide her with appropriate facilities to maintain proper
standards of hygiene and cleanliness’’.386
In Pedro Orlando Ubaque v. Director, National Model Prison, the Constitutional Court of
Colombia found that the sanitary and environmental conditions in which a prisoner living
with HIV/AIDS was housed violated his right to health and right to life.387 The Court
found the prisoner’s rights had been violated despite the fact he was held in a special unit
designed to care for people living with HIV/AIDS in the prison. Although the Court agreed
that the state had implemented special medical provision for the prisoners in this unit, it still
found that the overall sanitary and environmental conditions violated the right to health and
right to life.388
A Right to Food and Water
The failure to provide detainees with reasonable quality food or water in sufficient quantity
has an obvious negative impact on health. The Standard Minimum Rules specify that all
prisoners shall be provided with ‘‘food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength,
of wholesome quality and well prepared and served’’, as well as ‘‘Drinking water . . .
whenever he needs it’’.389 The failure to provide safe and adequate food and drinking water
has been found to contribute to violations of international law in all human rights systems.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressed concern
about access to health care in prisons in its Concluding Observations on Trinidad and
Tobago,390 Brazil391 and Yemen,392 identifying lack of access to adequate food and drinking
water in all three cases. In Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania, the African
Commission on Human Rights found a violation of the right to health on grounds including
insufficient food.393 In that case, the Commission found that detainees in Mauritania ‘‘only
received a small amount of rice per day, without any meat or salt. Some had to eat leaves or
grass’’.394
In an individual communication with the Government of Myanmar, the Special
Rapporteur on Health expressed concern about unhygienic living conditions, and their
negative health effects which had lead to the death of 12 prisoners and the hospitalisation of
40 others. The Special Rapporteur specifically identified ‘‘rotten’’ food and ‘‘unclean
drinking water’’ among his concerns.’’395
However, most of the case law on this issue is again found under civil and political rights
mechanisms. In Nigeria, the UN Human Rights Committee cited ‘‘lack of adequate food
[and] clean water’’ among the factors contributing to ‘‘a high level of death in custody’’.396
Poor quality or insufficient food and/or water have been cited as contributing to Article

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10(1) violations in numerous individual applications to the Committee.397 The European
Court reached a similar conclusion in Alver v. Estonia, finding the ‘‘[f]ood had been
provided only once a day’’ and that ‘‘the quality of the food had been poor’’.398 In the
Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania case, the African Commission found
that the failure to provide adequate food not only violated the right to health, but also
contributed to a violation of the right to life.399
Adequate food and water for detainees is also guaranteed under international
humanitarian law. Under Article 26 of Geneva III, the Detaining Power must provide
‘‘basic daily food rations . . . in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good
health’’ as well as ‘‘[s]ufficient drinking water’’.400 In the Limaj Case before the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the fact that ‘‘food and water
were not provided regularly’’ 401 at the Llapushnik/Lapusnik prison camp contributed to
‘‘inhumane conditions’’402 and the offence of cruel treatment.403
Fulfilling the Right to Health of Prisoners: The Need for an Enhanced Role for the
United Nations Committee against Torture
There is consensus in international law that the state has an obligation to protect the lives
and well-being of people it holds in custody. Prisoners have the right to health, including
medical care, mental health care and living conditions that do not jeopardise their health or
promote disease. As reviewed above, the international jurisprudence exhibits clear areas of
consensus, and therefore direction to states, on the minimum legal standards they must
meet to remain human rights compliant.
The right to health of prisoners is enshrined under both economic, social and cultural
rights as well as civil and political rights. Indeed, the issue of the right to health of prisoners
offers a unique intersection of these two groups of rights, and one might argue is an
illustration of interconnectedness of these rights that highlights the artificial separation of
them into different categories.
A comparison of the jurisprudence from United Nations and regional human rights
bodies, as well as key national case law, shows that the different systems have adopted a
remarkably similar approach when engaging the right to health of persons in detention. Yet
despite this legal direction, it is clear from the investigations of human rights monitors and
non-governmental organisations that the failure to fulfil the right to health of prisoners
affects millions of people worldwide.404 This vividly illustrates that*as was the case in the
18th century England of John Howard*the recognition of this right in law does not mean
that people in prison are necessarily able to avail of the protections it provides.
As described by one legal scholar who focuses on health rights, ‘‘the problem with the
right to health is not so much a lack of codification but rather an absence of a consistent
implementation practice through reporting procedures and before judicial and quasijudicial bodies’’.405 Enhancing the mechanisms to enforce state compliance with human
rights obligations is therefore the central challenge, one made more difficult by the negative
public attitudes towards prisoners worldwide.
The stigmatisation of this already marginalised population is not without effect on the
enforcement mechanisms themselves. Traditionally, human rights bodies have been
reluctant to wade into the contentious area of prison conditions, and instead to allow
states wide discretion in matters that are essentially viewed as domestic policy. Commenting
in 2000 on the approach of European human rights bodies to prison conditions up to that
time, Professor Stephen Livingston of Queen’s University, Belfast concluded,

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Strasbourg has done little more than legitimate the existing practice of most States.
Commission decisions give the impression that, except in the most egregious cases, such
matters are seen as too detailed and too threatening to the authority of prison staff for a
court to tamper with.406
While Nigel Rodley, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has suggested that the
‘‘Regulation of prison conditions is quite properly the province of domestic legislation’’,
there is a legitimate question as to whether national courts effectively fulfil this role.407 As
noted in a recent UNAIDS review of litigation on HIV/AIDS by prisoners, ‘‘the ultimate
success of strategies using courts and tribunals to defend and promote human rights will
depend in part on whether there is a culture of respect for the rule of law in the jurisdiction
in question, as well as the watchdog agencies’’.408 However, the social and political
stigmatisation of prisoners means that efforts to enforce their rights are challenging even in
countries with a strong constitutional law tradition.
In the United States, it is ‘‘recognized that prison officials are vested with wide discretion
in controlling prisoners . . . and that hence, unless an infringement upon constitutional or
fundamental rights is involved, federal courts are naturally disinclined to interfere with a
prison’s internal discipline’’.409 In South Africa, the government recently refused to comply
with an order of the High Court to provide HIV anti-retroviral therapies to a group of
prisoners. This delay resulted in the death of at least one of the litigants in the case.410
These two examples demonstrate the limitations of leaving the question of prisoner
health rights solely within the realm of the domestic courts, and illustrate the need for
vigorous international oversight and enforcement mechanisms to complement domestic
human rights advocacy. The engagement of prisoner health rights under civil and political
rights mechanisms creates an important opportunity for an enhanced role for the relevant
treaty bodies in fulfilling the right to health of prisoners.
As has been explored, the jurisprudence in all the human rights systems takes the position
that inadequate medical care, or conditions of confinement negatively affecting the mental
or physical health of prisoners, may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and
in some egregious instances reach the threshold of torture. Indeed, the prohibition of cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment*a protection generally recognised as binding within
customary international law411*has been the mechanism most commonly used before
international human rights courts and treaty bodies to engage the right to health of
prisoners. As the treaty body mandated to monitor and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment worldwide, can the UN Committee against Torture become an
effective agent to monitor prison medical care, and promote improved health standards, on
an international scale?
The Committee has numerous mechanisms to monitor and promote state compliance
with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment, including both a periodic reporting function to review state compliance with
the terms of the treaty412 as well a mechanism to receive individual complaints from
victims.413 The Convention also contains an innovative mechanism that allows the
Committee to consider ex-officio enquires into systematic torture under Article 20.414
The recent adoption of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture415
creates two new and complementary mechanisms for independent inspection of places of
detention. The first is an international Sub-Committee for the prevention of torture, which
can conduct its own visits to countries who have adopted the Optional Protocol. The
second mechanism mandates that each state adopting the Optional Protocol establish an

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independent national body to monitor places of detention, a so-called National Preventive
Mechanism.
With the addition of a Special Rapporteur on Torture, the monitoring and enforcement
mechanisms to prevent torture are more robust than those found with many other UN
treaties.416 The comprehensive nature of monitoring and enforcement mechanisms
provided for under the Convention against Torture, including the new inspection regimes
established under the Optional Protocol, would significantly strengthen the options currently
available for promoting the right to health of prisoners. Yet while both the Committee and
Special Rapporteur have made occasional comment on prison health issues, as described
above, their work in this regard has been far from exhaustive, and indeed is far less
developed than a number of other treaty bodies and human rights courts and commissions.
However, there is scope to expand the Committee’s work in this regard, and to more
rigorously address the right to health of prisoners under Article 16 on cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment in the Convention against Torture,417 which states that
Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other
acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to
torture as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or
with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official
capacity.418
Article 16 expands the remit of the Committee to include ill-treatment falling short of
torture. Indeed, the Committee has stated, ‘‘Allegations that prisoners were . . . not
provided with medical treatment . . . cannot be considered as instances of torture, although
they amount to cruel and degrading treatment’’.419 The 2007 Annual Report of the Special
Rapporteur on Torture also identifies ‘‘restricted access to medical services’’ in prison as
contributing to inhumane treatment.420
There is room for evolution of the approach of the Committee against Torture in this
regard. Professor William A. Schabas of the Irish Centre for Human Rights writes, ‘‘It is
now well-accepted that international human rights norms must receive a dynamic and
‘evolutive’ construction’’ and therefore ‘‘[t]he concept of what is cruel, inhuman, or
degrading ought to change over time to reflect contemporary thinking and values’’.421 This
evolutive principle has been embraced by human rights courts and treaty bodies in
expanding the definition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment to include health related
matters in prisons.
The European Court, for example, takes the view that the ‘‘living nature’’422 of European
Convention requires it apply to an ‘‘increasingly high standard . . . in the area of the
protection of human rights and fundamental liberties.’’423 This process of evolving norms
and standards creates ‘‘the possibility . . . that certain acts previously falling outside the
scope of Article 3 might in future attain the required level of severity’’ to constitute
Convention violations.424 Based upon this principle, there is clearly room for the Committee
against Torture to take a more expansive role in monitoring prisoner health rights, and
promoting improved standards.
It is now well established in the Article 3 case law of the European Court that intent is not
necessary for a breach of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment to occur.
According to Price v. United Kingdom,
In considering whether treatment is ‘‘degrading’’ within the meaning of Article 3, one of
the factors which the Court will take into account is the question whether its object was to

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humiliate and debase the person concerned, although the absence of any such purpose
cannot conclusively rule out a finding of violation of Article 3.425
The approach adopted in Price, and in numerous subsequent Article 3 applications before
the European Court,426 clearly creates scope for examining prisoner health issues under the
Convention against Torture by removing the issue of intent as an obstacle to engaging
protections against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Further scope for an evolutive interpretation of the Committee’s role vis-a`-vis prison
health is found in the interpretation of the definition of ‘‘lawful punishment’’ under the
Convention against Torture. Under Article 1, torture ‘‘does not include pain or suffering
arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions’’.427 The UN Declaration
against Torture, from which the Convention against Torture was broadly drawn,428 defines
‘‘lawful sanctions’’ as those that do not violate the Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment
of Prisoners.429 Rodley suggests that treatment that violates the Rules could therefore be seen
as violating the Convention.430 As discussed above, medical, mental health and environmental health conditions have often been found by human rights courts and treaty bodies to
contravene standards set out in the Rules, and human rights bodies have used the Rules as a
basis for findings of state violations. Therefore, this raises the possibility of defining
conditions that violate established prison health standards as being ‘‘unlawful’’, and
therefore open for scrutiny by the Committee against Torture.
Clearly, then, the scope exists for the Committee against Torture to substantially expand
its remit in the area of prisoner health rights, and incorporate specific monitoring of
conditions that constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. However, this function
could be further enhanced and strengthened through the adoption of an international
instrument specifically codifying the rights of prisoners to health care within international
law.
It has been suggested that the development of an international treaty to specifically define
the humane standards of treatment of prisoners at the level of international law, along with
comprehensive mechanisms for periodic reporting and receiving individual complaints,
would be the most effective mechanism to improve prison conditions worldwide. According
to Bernard in 1994,
Widespread abuse of prisoners’ human rights will continue unless, inter alia, clear and, at
least basically, precise definitions of those rights are promulgated and accepted. The
current standards of humane treatment, even though they are generally accepted, are
abysmally inadequate because they lack definition.431
As reviewed above, in the decade since Bernard’s proposal to develop a UN Convention on
the Humane Treatment of Prisoners, lawful standards of prison health, and the integrally
related issue of prison living conditions, have been quite clearly defined in the international
jurisprudence. Regional differences in socio-economic and political environments have not
resulted in differing standards of acceptable prison health regimes between UN and
regional human rights bodies. African, Latin American and European jurists, as well as the
UN Human Rights Committee and UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights, have developed a remarkablely consistent approach on what conditions of detention
are in violation of international human rights law on issues related to the right to health of
prisoners. Therefore, these significant areas of consensus on the issue of health could form
the basis of a new international instrument, for example a Second Optional Protocol to the UN
Convention against Torture.

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Building upon the already defined lawful health standards in prisons, a Second Optional
Protocol focusing specifically on health standards could clearly define the rights of prisoners
and responsibilities of states at the level of international law, and outline monitoring and
enforcement mechanisms under the Convention against Torture. Given the comprehensive
regime of independent national and international monitoring of places of detention that
entered into force under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, a Second
Optional Protocol on the right to health would allow for the active promotion of clear
international standards of lawful health care.
Given the ongoing failure of states to fulfil the right to health of prisoners, such new
enforcement mechanisms could significantly improve access to, and standards of, health
care and environmental conditions in places of detention around the world. As the failure of
states to provide adequate health standards in prisons poses a significant risk to the health of
the general public, enhanced enforcement mechanisms, such as a Second Optional Protocol,
would be a powerful statement of the important link between prison health and public
health, and the need to address both before the right to the highest attainable standard of
health is realised by all.
Acknowledgements
The original research for this paper was conducted in 2006 as part of an LL.M. (Masters)
Degree in International Human Rights Law completed at the Irish Centre for Human
Rights, Faculty of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway. I would like to thank my
thesis supervisor, Professor William A. Schabas, for his input and support. I would also like
to acknowledge Dr Vinodh Jaichand, Dr Kathleen Cavanaugh and Shannonbrooke
Murphy, all of whom contributed to my thinking and analysis of this issue.
I would like to thank Ralf Ju¨rgens, Richard Elliott and Glenn Betteridge, all of whom
have been influential in my thinking on prisons, health and international human rights law
over many years of friendship and collaboration.
I would like to thank my colleagues Damon Barrett and Catherine Cook at the
International Harm Reduction Association for their comments and feedback. I would
particularly like to thank Damon for his help with the background section on international
human rights law.
Finally, I would like to dedicate this paper to the memory of three friends and
comrades, all of whom have been inspirations to me in prisoners’ rights activism: Jim
Campbell, Michael Linhart and Laurence Stocking.
Notes
1 Howard (1792), p. 29.
2 An Act for preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol, and preventing the Gaol Distemper 14 Geo.3 c.59 (1774).
3 For the purposes of this paper, the term ‘‘prisoner’’ is used to refer to individuals detained in criminal justice
and correctional facilities during the investigation of a crime; while awaiting trial; after conviction and before
sentencing; after sentencing; and those held without charge. The term is used interchangeably with others
including ‘‘person(s) in detention’’, ‘‘incarcerated person(s)’’ and ‘‘person(s) deprived of liberty’’. Unless
specifically noted otherwise, the term is a general one used broadly to refer to adult and juvenile males and
females.
4 Human Rights Committee ‘General Comment No. 6: The Right to Life Article 6’ (30 April 1982) UN Doc
HRI\GEN\1\Rev.1 para 5.; Joseph also notes that the Human Rights Committee ‘‘has confirmed a broad
positive element to the right to life’’. S. Joseph et al. (2004), p. 155; Human Rights Committee ‘‘General
Comment 21: Humane treatment of persons deprived of liberty (Art. 10)’’ (10 April 1992) Compilation of
General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies UN Doc.HRI/

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GEN/1/Rev.6 para 3. Even prior to the 1774 UK Act, the Italian philosopher and penal reform advocate,
Caesar Beccaria, implied a responsibility of States to refrain from inflicting unnecessary harm upon persons in
prison. ‘‘[T]he purpose of punishment’’, according to Beccaria, ‘‘is not that of tormenting or afflicting any
sentient creature . . . The end of punishment . . . is no other than to prevent the criminal from doing further
injury to society, and to prevent others from committing the like offence. Such punishments, therefore, and
such a mode of inflicting them, ought to be chosen, as will make the strongest and most lasting impressions on
the minds of others, with the least torment to the body of the criminal’’. Beccaria (1776), p. 31.
Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights ‘General Comment No. 14: The right to the highest
attainable standard of health’ (11 August 2000) UN Doc E/C.12/2000/4 para 1.
Walmsley (2005), p. 1.
Human Rights Watch (1993), p. 127.
Howard, op. cit., p. 4.
Howard, op. cit., p. 5.
Howard, op. cit., p. 7.
Ibid.
Human Rights Watch (1993), p. xv.
Bone and others (2000), p. 11. HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support in Prison Settings: A
Framework for an Effective National Response (UNODC/WHO/UNAIDS New York 2006), p. 12.
Moscow Declaration: Prison Health as part of Public Health (World Health Organization Europe 2003), p. 2.
International Committee of the Red Cross (2006), Press Release (22 March).
International Committee of the Red Cross (2006), Interview with Dr Eric Burnier.
Veen (2006), p. 1.
Ibid.
Maher and others (1998), pp. 22Á23.
Bone and others, op. cit., p. 22.
Research cited by the WHO on multi-drug resistant TB in prisons as a percentage of total TB infections
among prisoners found high rates in prisons in New York, USA (32%), the Russian Federation (22.56%),
Azerbaijan (23%) and the Republic of Georgia (13%). Bone and others, op. cit., p. 21.
World Health Organization Europe (2005), p. 3.
Ju¨rgens (2006), p. 2.
Ju¨rgens (2002), p. 19. For more information on this outbreak see Caplinskas & Likatavicius (2002).
Goyer (2003), chapter 1.
Ibid.
Commission on Human Rights ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of
the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt’ (11 February 2005) UN Doc E/
CN.4/2005/51 para 11.
World Health Organization Europe Health in Prison Factsheet (WHO Regional Office for Europe), p. 2.
Ibid.
Commission on Human Rights (2005), op. cit..
Commission on Human Rights (1999), para 67.
Human Rights Watch (1993), pp. 21Á22.
Human Rights Watch (1993), chapter 2.
Human Rights Watch (1993), p. 22.
van Zyl Smit & Dunkel (2001), p. viii.
Bone and others, op. cit, p. 11.
For example, The Moscow Declaration: Prison Health as part of Public Health (note 14); Dublin Declaration on
HIV/AIDS in Prisons in Europe and Central Asia (23 February 2004) prin 1, 3; HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care,
Treatment and Support in Prison Setting (note 13), p. 8.
Barrett (2008).
Although Cuba is a member of the OAS, it has been suspended from participation since 1962, leaving 34
countries actively participating.
To date, 22 OAS member states have accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. See Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, http://www.cidh.org/Basicos/English/Basic4.Amer.Conv.Ratif.htm
All members of the UN are, however, bound by the Charter of the United Nations.
Barrett, op. cit.
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into
force 3 January 1976) 993 UNTS 3 (ICESCR) art 12(1).
Ibid., art 2.2.

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Cabal and Pasini v. Australia (7 August 2003) UN Doc CCPR/C/78/D/1020/2002) para. 7.7.
Human Rights Committee ‘General Comment No. 6’ (note 4) para 5.
Human Rights Committee ‘General Comment 21’ (note 4) para 3.
Constitution of the World Health Organization (adopted by the International Health Conference New York
19Á22 June 1946 signed on 22 July 1946 entered into force on 7 April 1948) Official Records of the World
Health Organization No. 2, p. 100 (WHO Constitution) preamble.
Toebes (1999), p.16.
WHO Constitution (n48) preamble.
For example, World Health Organization (1993); WHO Europe (note 14), p. 1; Bone, op. cit.
WHO Constitution (note 48) art 2(c).
Ibid., art 2(g).
Ibid., art 2(m).
Ibid., art 2(i).
‘‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his
family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to
security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in
circumstances beyond his control’’. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948)
UNGA Res 217 A(III) (UDHR) art 25.
Toebes, op. cit., p. 40.
UDHR (note 56) art 25(1).
Toebes, op. cit., p. 40.
Ibid.
Ibid.
ICESCR (note 43) art 12(1); Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(entered into force 3 September 1981) UNGA Res 34/180 UN Doc A/34/46 (CEDAW) art 12; Convention
on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3
(CRC) art 24.
European Social Charter (Revised) (adopted 3 May 1996, entered into force 3 July 1999) ETS 163 art 11;
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, OAS Res XXX adopted by the Ninth International
Conference of American States (1948) reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the
Inter-American System OEA/Ser L V/II.82 Doc 6 Rev 1 at 17 (1992) (American Declaration) art XI;
Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic Social and
Cultural Rights (entered into force 16 November 1999) OAS Treaty Series No. 69 (1988) reprinted in Basic
Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System OEA/Ser.L.V/II.82 doc.6 rev.1 at 67
(1992) (Protocol of San Salvador); African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (adopted 27 June 1981,
entered into force 21 October 1986) (1982) 21 ILM 58 (African Charter) art 14(1); Protocol to the African
Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (adopted 11 July 2003, entered into
force 25 November 2005) reprinted in 1 Afr Hum Rts LJ 40 (African Women Protocol); African Charter on
the Rights and Welfare of the Child (entered into force 29 November 1999) OAU Doc CAB/LEG/24.9/49
(African Children Charter).
ICESCR (note 43) art 12(1).
Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (note 5) para 4.
Ibid., para 11.
Committee on the Rights of the Child ‘General Comment No. 4: Adolescent health and development in the
context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’ (2003) UN Doc CRC/GC/2004/4 para 4.
CEDAW (note 62) art 12.
Toebes, op. cit., p. 55.
Commission on Human Rights (note 31) para 64.
Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the
Field (12 August 1949, entered into force 21 October 1950) (Geneva I).
Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (12 August 1949) 6 UST 3316 75 UNTS
135 (Geneva III) art 13.
Ibid., art 15.
Ibid., art 30.
Ibid., art 31.
Ibid., art 30.
Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (27 July 1929) arts 4, 5, 9, 14, 15, 32, 58,
69.

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78 European Social Charter (note 63) art 11.
79 Toebes, op. cit., p. 69. Rather than the comprehensive language of the WHO Constitution or Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, for example, the Social Charter requires only that States ‘‘remove as far as
possible the causes of ill-health’’ [Article 11(1)] and ‘‘prevent as far as possible epidemic, endemic and other
diseases’’. [Article 11(3)]. Toebes suggests that the inclusion of the term ‘‘as far as possible’’ in this context
‘‘detracts from the mandatory character of such an obligation’’.
80 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (18 December 2000) OJ (C 364) 01 art 35.
81 Under Article 35, ‘‘Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from
medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices’’. This wording suggests a
wide discretion to States in defining for themselves the parameters of the scope of the right to health care
services. The equivocal nature of the language used in Article 35 stands in contrast to other public services
guaranteed within the Charter, such as the guarantee that in Article 14, ‘‘Everyone has the right to education’’.
82 Article XI guarantees ‘‘the right to the preservation of his health through sanitary and social measures relating
to food, clothing, housing and medical care, to the extent permitted by public and community resources’’.
American Declaration (note 63), art XI.
83 American Convention on Human Rights (entered into force 18 July 1978) OAS Treaty Series No. 36 1144
UNTS 123 reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System OEA/
Ser.L.V/II.82 doc.6 rev.1 at 25 (1992) (American Convention).
84 Protocol of San Salvador (note 63).
85 Ibid., art 10(1).
86 See below.
87 African Charter (note 63), art 16.
88 Ibid., art 14(2); Separate instruments within the African system define health rights for women and for
children. See African Women Protocol (note 63) art 14; African Children Charter (note 63) art 14.
89 See below.
90 Rieter (2002), pp. 83, 86.
91 Bernard (1994), pp. 759, 787.
92 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (adopted by the First United Nations Congress on
the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, approved 31 July 1957 ESC
Res 663C(XXIV), amended 12 May 1977 ESC Res 2076(LXII)) (Standard Minimum Rules).
93 Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (adopted by 17 December 1979) UNGA Res 34/169 art 6.
94 Principles of Medical Ethics (18 December 1982) UNGA Res 37/194 art 6.
95 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (1988)
GA Res 43/173, annex 43 UN GAOR Supp (No. 49) at 298, UN Doc A/43/49 prin 24.
96 Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (1990) GA Res 45/111, annex, 45 UN GAOR Supp. (No.
49A) at 200, UN Doc A/45/49 para 9.
97 Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (14 December 1990) GA Res 45/113 art 31.
98 See also, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (1985) GA Res
40/33, annex, 40 UN GAOR Supp (No 53) at 207, UN Doc A/40/53 (The Beijing Rules); United Nations
Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (1990) GA Res 45/113, annex, 45 UN GAOR
Supp (No. 49A) at 205, UN Doc A/45/49.
99 Rodley (1999), p. 280.
100 Betteridge (2004), p. 14.
101 Rodley, op. cit, p. 279.
102 For example, Greek Case (1969) 12 YB 170 EcomHR.
103 For example, John D Ouko v. Kenya (2000) African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Comm No
232/99 paras 24Á25; Media Rights Agenda v. Nigeria (2000) African Commission on Human and Peoples’
Rights Comm No. 224/98 para 70.
104 For example, Henaf v. France (2005) 40 EHRR 44; Kalashnikov v. Russia (2003) 36 EHRR 34; Poltoratskiy v.
Ukraine (2003) ECHR 2003*V; Kehayov v. Bulgaria App No. 41035/98 (judgment of 18 January 2005); I. I.
v. Bulgaria App. No. 44082/98, (judgment of 9 June 2005).
105 Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners (note 96) para 9.
106 Principles of Medical Ethics (note 94) art 1.
107 ‘Recommendation Rec (2006) 2 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the European Prison
Rules’ (adopted 11 January 2006 by the Committee of Ministers at the 952nd meeting of the Ministers’
Deputies) (European Prison Rules) art 40.3.
108 Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (note 5) para 34, emphasis in original.

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109 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Trinidad and Tobago’
(2002) UN Doc E/2003/22 45 paras 274, 297.
110 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Brazil’ (2003) UN Doc E/
2004/22 28 paras 144, 177.
111 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Yemen’ (2003) UN Doc E/
2004/22 55 paras 361, 380.
112 CRC (note 62) art 24(1).
113 Ibid., art 24(2).
114 Committee on the Rights of the Child ‘Concluding Observations: Argentina’ (2002) UN Doc CRC/C/121 8
para 87; Committee on the Rights of the Child ‘Concluding Observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland’ (2002) UN Doc CRC/C/121 23 para 154; Committee on the Rights of the Child
‘Concluding Observations: Coˆte d’Ivoire’ (2001) UN Doc CRC/C/108 59 paras 311Á312.
115 Committee on the Rights of the Child ‘Concluding Observations: Argentina’ (note 114) para 87.
116 Committee on the Rights of the Child ‘Concluding Observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland’ (note 114) para 154.
117 International PEN and Others v. Nigeria (1998) African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Comm
Nos. 137/94, 139/94, 154/86, 161/97 para 112. See also Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania
(2000) African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Comm Nos. 54/91, 61/91, 98/93, 164/97 a` 196/
97 and 210/98 para 122. ‘‘The State’s responsibility in the event of detention is even more evident to the
extent that detention centres are its exclusive preserve, hence the physical integrity and welfare of detainees is
the responsibility of the competent public authorities’’.
118 Free Legal Assistance Group, Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, Union Interafricaine de l’Homme, Les Te´moins
de Jehovah v. Zaire (1996) African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Comm Nos. 25/89, 47/90, 56/
91, 100/93 para 47.
119 International PEN and Others v. Nigeria (note 117) para 112.
120 Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania (note 117) para 122.
121 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 Art 35(2)(e).
122 Van Biljon and Others v. Minister of Correctional Services and Others (1997) 50 BMR 206. Ngwena and Cook in
Brand & Heyns (2005), p. 133; Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network/UNAIDS (2006), pp. 113Á116.
123 Van Biljon and Others v. Minister of Correctional Services and Others (note 122) para 54; Gutto (1998), 79 fn 68;
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network/UNAIDS, op. cit., p. 115.
124 EN and others v. The Government of the RSA and others (Case No. 4576/2006, Durban and Local Coast
Division, judgment of 22 June 2006) paras 31, 35.
125 Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Georgia’ (2002) UN Doc A/57/40 vol I 53 para 78(7).
126 Pinto v. Trinidad and Tobago (Communication No. 232/1987) Report of the Human Rights Committee vol 2
UN Doc A/45/40 p. 69 para 12.7; see also Kelly v. Jamaica (2 April 1991) UN Doc CCPR/C/41/D/253/1987
para 5.7.
127 Pinto v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 126) para 12.7. This position was also argued by Lord Steyn in his partial
dissent in the Privy Council case of Thomas and Hilaire v. Trinidad and Tobago (27 January 1999) Privy Council
Appeal No. 60 of 1998 19. Lord Steyn stated, ‘‘There are irreducible minimum standards of treatment of
condemned men which a state must observe. Those obligations fall into two categories. First there are
negative obligations. Thus prisoners may not be assaulted. Secondly, there are positive obligations. Thus there
is an obligation on the State to ensure that even a condemned man is afforded necessary medical care.’’
128 For example, Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Portugal’ (2003) UN Doc A/58/40 vol I
56 para 83(11); Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Cambodia’ (1999) UN Doc A/54/40
vol I 57 para 306; Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Congo’ (2000) UN Doc A/55/40 vol
I 43 para 282; Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Mongolia’ (2000) UN Doc A/55/40 vol
I 49 para 332; Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Syrian Arab Republic’ (2001) UN Doc
A/56/40 vol I 70 para 81(13).
129 Lantsova v. Russian Federation (26 March 2002) UN Doc CCPR/C/74/763/1997 para 9.2.
130 Fabrikant v. Canada (6 November 2003) UN Doc CCPR/C/79/D/970/2001) para 9.3.
131 Lantsova v. Russian Federation (note 129) para 9.2. In Barbato v. Uruguay, the Committee found the State in
violation of Article 6, in part, ‘‘because the Uruguayan authorities failed to take appropriate measures to
protect his [the applicant’s] life while he was in custody’’. Barbato v. Uruguay (27 November 1982) UN Doc
CCPR/C/OP/2 para 10(a).
132 Lantsova v. Russian Federation (note 129) para 9.2.
133 Ibid.

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134 For example, Galina Vedeneyeva v. Russian Federation (15 April 2005) UN Doc CCPR/C/83/D/918/2000;
Romans v. Canada (23 August 2004) UN Doc CCPR/C/81/D/1040/2001.
135 Fabrikant v. Canada (note 130) para 3.1.
136 Ibid., para 9.3.
137 Joseph et al., op cit., p. 183.
138 Edwards and another v. United Kingdom (2002) 35 EHRR 417 para 54; see also Osman v. United Kingdom
(1999) 29 EHRR 45.
139 Edwards and another v. United Kingdom is examined in more detail below.
140 Tarariyeva v. Russia Application No. 4353/03 (judgment of 14 December 2006) para 87.
141 Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania (note 117) para 120.
142 Consumer Education and Research Centre And Others v. Union of India and Others*Supreme Court of India (27
January 1995) para 26, reprinted in Ramcharan (2005), p. 163.
143 Sobraj v. The Superintendent, Central Jail Tihar [1979] 1 SCR 512 para 518.
144 Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Republic of Moldova’ (2002) UN Doc A/57/40 vol I 76
para 84(9).
145 Although it does not possess a remit to consider prison conditions per se, the Working Group on Arbitrary
Detention has noted that it ‘‘cannot disregard that . . . inadequate conditions of detention have a negative
impact on the exercise of rights that squarely fall within its mandate’’. Commission on Human Rights ‘Civil
and Political Rights, including the Question of Torture and Detention: Report of the Working Group on
Arbitrary Detention’ (1 December 2004) UN Doc E/CN.4/2005/6 para 68.
146 Ibid., para 69.
147 Commission on Human Rights ‘Civil and Political Rights, including the Question of Torture and Detention:
Report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention*Addendum: Visit To Argentina’ (23 December 2003)
UN Doc E/CN.4/2004/3/Add.3 para 62.
148 Commission on Human Rights (note 145) para 70.
149 S v. Zuba and 23 similar cases (cases no CA40/2003 and 207/2003, Eastern Cape Division, judgment handed
down on 2/10/2003).
150 Ibid., para 21.
151 Ibid., fn 18.
152 Steinberg (2005).
153 European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
(1993), para 31.
154 Cabal and Pasini v. Australia (note 45) para. 7.7.
155 For example, Womah Mukong v. Cameroon (Communication No. 458/1991) UN Doc CCPR/C/51/D/458/
1991.
156 Setelich/Sendic v. Uruguay (28 October 1981) UN Doc A/37/40 para 20. See also Vasilskis v. Uruguay (31
March 1983) UN Doc A/38/40; Viana v. Uruguay (29 March 1984) UN Doc A/39/40.
157 Pennant v. Jamaica (20 October 1998) UN Doc CCPR/C/64/D/647/1995 para 8.3.
158 For example, Constitutional Rights Project and Civil Liberties Organisation v. Nigeria (1999) African Commission
on Human and Peoples’ Rights Comm Nos 143/95, 150/96 para 5; Malawi African Association and others v
Mauritania (note 117) paras 12, 116; International PEN and Others v Nigeria (note 117) para 80; Krishna
Achuthan (On behalf of Aleke Banda), Amnesty International (On behalf of Orton and Vera Chirwa), Amnesty
International (On behalf of Orton and Vera Chirwa v. Malawi (1994) African Commission on Human and
Peoples’ Rights Comm Nos. 64/92, 68/92, 78/92 para 7.
159 Cantoral Benavides Case (Judgment) Inter-America Court of Human Rights Ser C No. 69 (18 August 2000)
para 85.
160 Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago (Judgment) Inter-American Court of Human Rights Ser. C (11 March 2005)
para 50(p).
161 Commission on Human Rights ‘Report by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak: Mission to Mongolia’ (20 December 2005) UN Doc E/
CN.4/2006/6/Add.4 para 55(i).
162 Committee against Torture ‘Concluding Observations: Zambia’ (2002) UN Doc A/57/44 34 para 65(b).
163 Committee against Torture ‘Concluding Observations: Belgium’ (2003) A/58/44 49 para 131(j).
164 For example, Shaw v. Jamaica (2 April 1998) UN Doc CCPR/C/62/D/704/1996 para 7.2; Marshall v. Jamaica
(3 November 1998) UN Doc CCPR/C/64/D/730/1996; Leehong v. Jamaica (13 July 1999) UN Doc CCPR/C/
66/D/613/1995.
165 For the Inter-American Court see Hilaire, Constantine and Benjamin et al. v. Trinidad and Tobago
Case (Judgment) Inter-American Court of Human Rights Ser C No. 94 (21 June 2002) para 84(m); for the

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Inter-American Commission see Lallion v. Grenada (Judgment) Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights Case 11.765 (21 October 2002) para 87; Jacob v. Grenada (Judgment) Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights Case 12.158 (21 October 2002) para 94; McKenzie, Downer and Tracey, Baker, Fletcher, Rose v.
Jamaica (Judgment) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Cases 12.023, 1112.044, 12.107, 12.126,
12.146 (13 April 2000) para 289; Victor Rosario Congo v. Ecuador (Judgment) Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights Case 11.427 (13 April 1999) para 68; Rudolph Baptiste v. Grenada (Judgment) Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights Case 11.743 (13 April 2000) paras 137Á138.
Article 3 imposes a ‘‘duty to protect’’ the well being of people in detention. [Keenan v. United Kingdom (2001)
33 EHRR 38 para 91.] This encompasses ‘‘a positive obligation to protect the physical well-being of persons
deprived of their liberty’’ [Hurtado v Switzerland (1994) Ser A 280A para 79.], a duty ‘‘to take the practical
preventive measures necessary to protect the physical integrity and the health of persons who have been
deprived of their liberty’’, and a duty to ‘‘do everything that could reasonably [be] expected . . . to prevent the
occurrence of a definite and immediate risk to [a prisoner’s] physical integrity, of which [the authorities] knew
or should have known’’ [Pantea v. Romania (2005) 40 EHRR 26 paras 189, 190].
Rohde v. Denmark Application No. 69332/01 (judgment 21 July 2005) para 99.
Kudla v. Poland (2000) 35 EHRR 11 para 94.
Melnik v. Ukraine Application No 72286/01 (judgment of 28 March 2006) paras 2 103(b), 106.
Estelle v. Gamble 429 US 97, 105 (1976) paras 26Á27.
Ibid., para 11.
Pinto v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 126) para 12.7.
‘‘although appointments were made for a medical doctor to see him, these appointments were not kept, and
that his skin condition has been left untreated’’ Lewis v. Jamaica (18 July 1996) UN Doc CCPR/C/57/D/527/
1993 para 10.4.
‘‘the author is allergic to dust and to the paint used in St. Catherine Prison and . . . his allergy provokes attacks
of asthma and burning eyes, for which he does not receive any treatment’’. Whyte v. Jamaica (27 July 1998)
UN Doc CCPR/C/63/D/732/1997 para 9.4
Free Legal Assistance Group and others (note 112) para 47; EN and others v. The Government of the RSA and
others (note 124) paras 31, 35.
‘‘the author was stabbed in the face by an inmate . . . He received twenty stitches, but was denied follow-up
medical treatment. He submits that he suffered much pain the following three days, but that he was denied
pain killers.’’ Leslie v. Jamaica (31 July 1998) UN Doc CCPR/C/63/D/564/1993 para 3.2.
Commission on Human Rights ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of
the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, Addendum: Summary of
communications sent to and replies received from Governments and other actors, December 2004-December
2005’ (22 December 2005) UN Doc E/CN.4/2006/48/Add.1 paras 10Á11.
Ibid., paras 26Á27.
Ibid., paras 28, 43.
Ibid., para 40.
Ibid., para 44.
Commission on Human Rights ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of
the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt: Addendum, Summary of cases
transmitted to Governments and replies received (2 February 2005) UN Doc E/CN.4/2005/51/Add.1 para
41.
Commission on Human Rights (note 31) para 218
Levy v. Jamaica (3 November 1998) UN Doc CCPR/C/64/D/719/1996 para 7.4.
Simpson v. Jamaica (31 October 2001) UN Doc CCPR/C/73/D/695/1996 para 2.7.
Matthews v. Trinidad and Tobago (31 March 1998) UN Doc CCPR/C/62/D/569/1993 para 3.1.
Henry and Douglas v. Jamaica (25 July 1996) UN Doc CCPR/C/57/D/571/1994 para 9.5.
Price v. United Kingdom (2001) 34 EHRR 53 para 7.
Mouisel v. France (2004) 38 EHRR 34.
For example, Price v. UK (n 188).
‘‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’’.
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on
Human Rights, as amended) (ECHR) art 8(1).
R (Szuluk) v. Governor, HMP Full Sutton [2004] 1 PLR 386 para 37.
Ibid., para 33.
R (Szuluk) v. (1) Governor, HMP Full Sutton (2) Home Secretary [2005] 2 PLR 42 para 23.
Ibid., para 27.

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Geneva III (note 72) art 15.
Ibid., art 30.
Ibid.,art 31.
Ibid., art 30.
Limaj Case (Judgment) IT-03-66-T (30 November 2005).
Ibid., para 283.
Ibid., 288.
Ibid., 286.
Ibid., 289.
Standard Minimum Rules (note 92) art 25(1).
Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (note 95)
prin 24.
Human Rights Committee (note 122) para 83(11).
Lantsova v. Russian Federation (note 129) para 9.2.
Leehong v. Jamaica (note 164) para 3.11.
Kalenga v. Zambia (27 July 1993) UN Doc CCPR/C/48/D/326/1988 para. 6.5.
Bennett v. Jamaica (25 March 1999) UN Doc CCPR/C/65/D/590/1994) para 10.8
Cantoral Benavides Case (note 159) para 43(a).
Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 160) para 51(k).
Lallion v. Grenada (note 165) para 88; see also Jacob v. Grenada (note 166) para 95.
Istrath and Others v. Moldova Application Nos. 8721/05, 8705/05, 8742/05 (judgment of 27 June 2007) para 49.
Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine Application No. 54825/00 (judgment of 5 April 2005) para 105.
McGlinchy and Others v. United Kingdom (2003) 37 EHRR 41 para 57.
Iorgov v. Bulgaria Application No. 40653/98 (judgment of 11 March 2004) para 85.
Istrath and Others v. Moldova (note 215) para 54.
Ibid., para 58.
Aliev v. Ukraine Application No. 41220/98 (judgment of 29 April 2003) para 143.
Popov v. Russia Application No 26853/04 (judgment of 13 July 2006) para 211.
Ibid., paras 219Á220.
Paladi v. Moldova Application No. 39806/05 (judgment 10 July 2007) paras 81, 85.
Commission on Human Rights (note 182) paras 39, 41.
Commission on Human Rights (note 31) para 218.
Limaj Case (note 200) para 288.
‘‘All prisoners have the right to receive health care, including preventive measures, equivalent to that available
in the community without discrimination . . . with respect to their legal status’’. WHO (note 51) art 1.
World Medical Association ‘Declaration of Edinburgh on Prison Conditions and the Spread of Tuberculosis
and Other Communicable Diseases’ (adopted October 2000).
‘Recommendation No. R (98)7 Concerning The Ethical And Organisational Aspects Of Health Care In
Prison’ (adopted 8 April 1998 by the Committee of Ministers) preamble; see also ‘Recommendation No. R
(93) 6 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States Concerning Prison and Criminological Aspects of the
Control of Transmissible Diseases including AIDS and related Health Problems in Prison’ (adopted 18
October 1993 by the Committee of Ministers) preamble.
Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (note 97) para 49.
‘‘Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Russian Federation’ (1997)
UN Doc E/1998/22 para 112.
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Russian Federation’ (2003)
UN Doc E/2004/22 64 para 33.
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Moldova’ (2003) UN Doc
E/C.12/1/Add.9 para 25.
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (note 233) para 61; Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights (note 234) para 47.
CRC (note 62) art 24(aÁf).
Human Rights Committee (note 144) para 84(9).
Ibid., para 84(9).
‘Core Document forming part of the Reports of States Parties: Ireland’ (1 July 1998) UN Doc HRI/CORE/1/
Add.15/Rev.1 para 42(b); Irish Council for Civil Liberties ‘ICCL Submission to the Government’s
Consultation on the Content of its First Report under the United Nations Convention Against Torture’
(January 2006) 4.

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R. Lines
The State (C) v. Frawley [1976] IR 365 para 373.
S v. Zuba (note 149) fn 18.
Steinberg, op.cit.
R v. Secretary of State of the Home Department ex parte Glen Fielding (1999) EWHC Admin 641 (High Court of
Justice, Queen’s Bench Division).
Prisoners AÁXX Inclusive v. State of New South Wales (1995) 38 NSWLR 622.
John Shelley v. The Secretary of State for the Home Department (2005) Case No. CO/5613/2004. This case has
been accepted to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.
For a discussion of this issue at the domestic level, see HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support in
Prison Setting (note 13), pp. 15Á16.
Cabal and Pasini Bertran v. Australia (note 45) para 3.
Ibid., para 7.7.
Human Rights Committee (note 144) para 84(9).
Pantea v. Romania (note 166) para 189.
Melnik v. Ukraine Application No. 72286/01 (judgment of 28 March 2006)paras 2 103(b), 106.
Staykov v. Bulgaria Application No. 49438/99 (judgment of 12 January 2007) para 81.
For example, Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine (note 216) para 87; I.I. v. Bulgaria Application No. 44082/98
(judgment of 9 June 2005) para 76; Alver v. Estonia Application No. 64812/01 (judgment of 8 November
2005) para 54.
Benediktov v. Russia Application No. 106/02 (judgment of 10 May 2007) para 40.
Kalashnikov v. Russia (note 104) para 98.
Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine (note 216) para 87.
For example, Kellv v. Jamaica (note 126) para 5.7; ‘‘increased the incidence of influenza among inmates’’
Matthews v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 186) para 3.3.
‘‘Mr. Caesar has suffered from serious health problems, which have included contracting tuberculosis and
chronic hemorrhoids’’. Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 160) paras 50(p), 99.
Standard Minimum Rules (note 92) para 22(1).
European Prison Rules (note 107) paras 47.1, 47.2.
For example, ‘Recommendation 1235 (1994) on Psychiatry and Human Rights’ (adopted 12 April 1994 by
the Parliamentary Assembly).
Commission on Human Rights (note 27) para 8.
Herczegfalvy v. Austria (1992) 15 EHRR 437 para 82.
Keenan v. United Kingdom (note 166) para 111; see also Pantea v. Romania (note 166) para 191; Rohde v.
Denmark (note 167) para 99.
‘‘[T]he Commission considers that . . . the guarantees established in article 5 of the American Convention
must be interpreted in light of the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the
Improvement of Mental Health Care’’. Victor Rosario Congo v. Ecuador (note 165) para 54.
Sahadath v. Trinidad and Tobago (2 April 2002) UN Doc CCPR/C/684/1996 para 9.
Ibid., para 7.3.
Williams v. Jamaica (4 November 1997) UN Doc CCPR/C/61/D/609/1995 para 6.5.
Human Right Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Belgium’ (1999) UN Doc A/54/40 vol I 26 para 88.
Edwards and another v. UK (note 139) para 64.
Ibid., para 62.
Keenan v. UK (note 166) para 116.
Rohde v. Denmark (note 167) para 106.
Williams v. Jamaica (note 269) para 6.5.
Commission on Human Rights ‘Situation of detainees at Guantanamo Bay’ (27 February 2006) UN Doc E/
CN.4/2006/120 para 92.
Commission on Human Rights ‘The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health: Report of the Special Rapporteur, Paul Hunt’ (16 February 2004) UN Doc E/
CN.4/2004/49 para 5.
Commission on Human Rights ‘Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the
highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt: Addendum Mission to Peru’ (4
February 2005) UN Doc E/CN.4/2005/51/Add.3 para 71(d).
Commission on Human Rights (note 177) para 43, 73.
Standard Minimum Rules (note 92) para 22(1).
European Prison Rules (note 107) para 41.1.
Principles of Medical Ethics (note 94) prin 1.

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283
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286
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308

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318
319
320
321

322

49

Recommendation 1235 (note 261) para 7(vi)(b).
Robinson v. Jamaica (29 March 2000) UN Doc A/55/40 vol. II 116 paras 10.1.
Human Rights Committee (note 128) para 83(16).
Aliev v. Ukraine (note 221) para 143.
Committee on the Rights of the Child ‘Concluding Observations: Argentina’ (note 114) para 62.
Commission on Human Rights (note 182) para 23.
Human Rights Commission (note 31) para 218.
WHO (note 51) prin 36.
Ibid., prin 11.
HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care, Treatment and Support in Prison Settings (note 13) actions 21, 46, 66, 68.
Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (note 95)
prin 25.
Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (note 97) para 55.
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (note 5) para 8.
Ibid., para 34.
Commission on Human Rights (note 276) para 5.
Commission on Human Rights (note 182) para 23.
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ‘Concluding Observations: Turkey’ (1997)
UN Doc A/52/38/Rev.1 part I 24 para 178.
Commission on Human Rights (note 275) para 82.
Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine (note 216) para 94.
Herczegfalvy v. Austria (note 263) para 82.
Ibid.
Ibid., paras 80Á82.
Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine (note 216) para 94.
Ibid., para 97.
Ibid., paras 98Á99.
Ciorap v. Moldova Application No. 12066/02 (judgment of 19 June 2007) paras 76Á83.
Under the revised Declaration of Malta on hunger strikes of the World Medical Association, the body that
establishes ethical guidance for doctors around the world, force-feeding by any means is considered as
unethical and as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. World Medical Association ‘Declaration on Hunger
Strikers’ (Adopted by the 43rd World Medical Assembly Malta, November 1991and editorially revised at the
44th World Medical Assembly Marbella, Spain, September 1992 and revised by the WMA General Assembly,
Pilanesberg, South Africa, October 2006).
C v. Minister of Correctional Services 1996 (4) SA 292 (T).
World Medical Association (note 229) preamble, para 4.
Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (note 5) para 11.
Toebes (1999b), pp. 661, 663.
‘‘[T]he right to health embraces a wide range of socio-economic factors that promote conditions in which
people can lead a healthy life, and extends to the underlying determinants of health, such as food and
nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation . . . and a healthy environment’’.
Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (note 5) para 4.
UDHR (note 56) art 25(1).
ICESCR (note 43) art 11(1).
Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights ‘General Comment No. 4: The right to adequate
housing’ (13 December 1991) UN Doc E/1992/23 annex III at 114 (1991) reprinted in Compilation of
General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies UN Doc HRI/
GEN/1/Rev.6 at 18 (2003) para 8(d).
Ibid., para 7.
Ibid., para 8(b).
Ibid., para 8(d).
See Ramcharan (1983), p. 297. In this regard, Ramcharan notes that ‘‘more people die on account of hunger
and disease than are killed’’. at p. 305.
For example, Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Togo’ (2002) UN Doc A/58/40 vol I 36
para 78(15); Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Nigeria’ (1996) UN Doc A/51/40 vol I 37
para 285.; Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Georgia’ (1997) UN Doc A/52/40 vol I 40
para 243.
Human Rights Committee (note 144) para 84(9).

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323 Labzov v. Russia Application No. 62208/00 (judgment of 16 June 2005) para 47.
324 Commission on Human Rights ‘Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment:
Note by the Secretary-General’ (1 September 2004) UN Doc A/59/324 para 46.
325 Geneva III (note 72) art 29.
326 Ibid., arts 25, 26.
327 Ibid., art 29.
328 Ibid., art 21.
329 Ibid., art 22.
330 Standard Minimum Rules (note 92) rules 10, 15, 20.
331 Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Senegal’ (1998) UN Doc A/53/40 para 64.
332 Human Rights Committee (note 321) para 285.
333 Ibid., para 243.
334 Human Rights Committee (note 128) paras 332, 333.
335 For example, the fact that the applicant ‘‘was kept in a hut measuring 5 m by 10 m’’ with 100 other prisoners
contributed to violations of Articles 7 and 10(1) Masiotti v. Uruguay (26 July 1982) UN Doc A/37/40 para 11;
‘‘being kept in a 9)6’ cell together with five other inmates . . . is not in compliance with the requirement that
prisoners be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person’’ Henry v.
Trinidad and Tobago (note 187) para 7.4; ‘‘cells measuring approximately 9’)6’ with between 9 and 12 other
prisoners. Each cell consists of 2 bunks, therefore only 4 men can sleep at any one time’’ Sahadath v. Trinidad
and Tobago (note 267) para 2.7; see also Sextus v. Trinidad and Tobago (16 July 2001) UN Doc A/56/40 vol II
(16 July 2001) 111 para 2.4; ‘‘the prison population was . . . five times the allowed capacity’’ Lantsova v.
Russian Federation (note 129) para 9.1; see also Shaw v. Jamaica (note 165); Francis et al. v. Trinidad and
Tobago (25 July 2002) UN Doc CCPR/C/75/D/899/1999; Zheludkov v. Ukraine (29 October 2002) UN Doc
CCPR/C/76/D/726/1996.
336 Lantsova v. Russian Federation (note 129) para 10.
337 Committee against Torture (note 126) para 65(b).
338 Commission on Human Rights ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Nigel S. Rodley, submitted pursuant
to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1994/37 Addendum: Visit by the Special Rapporteur to the
Russian Federation’ (16 November 1994) UN Doc E/CN.4/1995/34/Add.1 para 41.
339 Ibid., para 85.
340 Commission on Human Rights (note 27) para 11.
341 For example, see also Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania (note 158) paras 12, 116; Krishna
Achuthan et al. v. Malawi (note 158) para 7.
342 John D Ouko v. Kenya (note 103) para 5.
343 Suarez Rosero Case (Judgment) Inter-American Court of Human Rights Ser C No. 44 (20 January 1999) para
98.
344 Caesar v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 160) para 49(16).
345 Hilaire Case (note 165) para 154; see also Cantoral Benevides Case (note 159) para 85.
346 McKenzie et al. v. Jamaica (note 165) para 286.
347 ‘‘the applicant spent the entire six-month term of his detention in cells that measured 42 m2 and
accommodated up to 51 inmates, for whom 28 or 30 bunk beds were available. He was thus afforded less
than 1 m2 of personal space and shared a sleeping place with other inmates, taking turns with them to get a
rest’’ Novoselov v. Russia Application No. 66460/01 (judgment of 2 June 2005) para 41.
348 ‘‘detained in a cell of 10.5 square metres occupied by four detainees’’ Kehayov v. Bulgaria (note 105) para 67;
‘‘the applicant was detained for three months in a cell of six square metres apparently occupied by three to
four detainees’’. I.I. v. Bulgaria Application (note 253) para 72.
349 ‘‘For most of that time the applicant was afforded less than 2 square metres of space, of which more than one
year and a half was spent by the applicant being restricted to 1.51 m of space, in a cell of 16.65 m together with
10 other inmates’’ Karalevicˇius v. Lithuania Application No. 53254/99 (judgment of 7 April 2005) para 36.
350 ‘‘there were periods where this amount [of personal living space] was limited to 1.81 sq. m in Jo˜geva and 2.36
sq. m in the Central Prison’’ Alver v. Estonia (note 253) para 52.
351 Dougoz v. Greece (2001) ECHR 2001*II para 48.
352 ‘‘his cell measured 44.7 m. Between 15 prisoners (according to the Government) and up to 60 prisoners
(according to the applicant) were held in it’’. Melnik v. Ukraine (note 169) para 102. See also Dvoynykh v.
Ukraine Application No. 72277/01 (judgment of 12 October 2006).
353 Dvoynykh v. Ukraine Application No. 72277/01 (judgment of 12 October 2006) para 66.
354 Karalevicˇius v. Lithuania (note 349) para 39; see also Novoselov v. Russia (note 347) para 43.

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355 Benediktov v. Russia Application No. 106/02 (judgment of 10 May 2007) para 37. See also Mamedova v. Russia
Application No. 7064/05 (judgment of 1 June 2006) para 63.
356 Limaj Case (note 200) paras 288, 289.
357 Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania (note 117) para 122.
358 Commission on Human Rights (note 177) para 45.
359 Human Rights Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Georgia’ (note 321) para 243; Human Rights
Committee ‘Concluding Observations: Nigeria’(note 321) para 285.
360 Human Rights Committee (note 128) para 332, 333.
361 Human Rights Committee (note 125) para 78(7).
362 For example, Kelly v. Jamaica (note 126) para 3.8; Shaw v. Jamaica (note 164) para 7.2; Bozize v. Central African
Republic (7 April 1994) UN Doc CCPR/C/50/D/428/1990 para 2.2; Leslie v. Jamaica (note 176) para 3.8.
363 Marshall v. Jamaica (note 164) para 6.7; see also Bennett v. Jamaica (note 211) para 10.8 where the applicant
had ‘‘close to his cell a large pipe carrying waste water with foul odour’’.
364 Sextus v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 335) para 2.4.
365 McKenzie et al. v. Jamaica (note 165) at para 286.
366 Constitutional Rights Project and Civil Liberties Organisation v. Nigeria (note 158) para 5.
367 International PEN and Others v. Nigeria (note 117) para 80.
368 Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania (note 117) para 12.
369 Hilaire Case (note 165) para 84(m).
370 Lallion v. Grenada (note 165) para 88.
371 Nevmerzhitsky v. Ukraine (note 216) para 87. See also Dvoynykh v. Ukraine Application No. 72277/01
(judgment of 12 October 2006) para 67, ‘‘the applicant . . . was not provided with adequate amounts of
personal hygiene products and cleaning products’’.
372 Melnik v. Ukraine (note 251) para 109.
373 ‘‘The punishment cells had been cold and damp and rats had come out from the hole used as a toilet’’ Alver v.
Estonia (note 253) para 53. The cells ‘‘were dirty and infested with cockroaches, bed-bugs and lice’’ Mayzit v.
Russia Application No. 63378/00 (judgment of 20 January 2005) para 41.
374 ‘‘Cells were infested with lice, bedbugs, and cockroaches’’. Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania
(note 117) para 12.
375 ‘‘his cell was infested with ants and other insects’’ Pennant v. Jamaica (note 158) para 8.4.; ‘‘the prison is
infested by vermin’’ Robinson v. Jamaica (note 283) para 10.1.
376 Perkins v. Jamaica (30 July 1998) UN Doc CCPR/C/63/D/733/1997 para 11.7; Sahadath v. Trinidad and
Tobago (note 266) para 2.7.
377 Sextus v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 335) para 2.1; see also Sahadath v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 266) para 2.7;
Francis et al. v. Trinidad and Tobago (note 335) para 2.3.
378 Griffin v. Spain (4 April 1995) UN Doc CCPR/C/53/D/493/1992 para 3.1.
379 Marshall v. Jamaica (note 164) para 6.7; see also Wilson v. The Philippines (30 October 2003) UN Doc CCPR/
C/79/D/868/1999 para 2.4; Simpson v. Jamaica (note 185) para 2.1.
380 Human Rights Committee (note 128) paras 332, 333.
381 ‘‘there is no integral sanitation in the cells and therefore that the victims must use buckets for toilets’’.
McKenzie et al. v. Jamaica (note 165) para 271.
382 ‘‘There were no toilet facilities and a ‘slop pail’ was used by everyone in the cell’’. Caesar v. Trinidad and
Tobago (note 160) para 49(16).
383 Kehayov v. Bulgaria (note 104) para 71; see also I.I. v. Bulgaria (note 253) para 73.
384 John D Ouko v. Kenya (note 103) para 5.
385 Commission on Human Rights (note 147) para 62.
386 The State (Susan Richardson) v. The Governor of Mountjoy Prison [1980] ILRM 82 1979 No 498.
387 Pedro Orlando Ubaque v. Director, National Model Prison Constitutional Court of Colombia Decision No T-502/
94 (1994); cited in Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network/UNAIDS (note 122), p. 101.
388 Ibid.
389 Standard Minimum Rules (note 92) rule 20.
390 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Trinidad and Tobago’
(2002) UN Doc E/2003/22 45 paras 274, 297.
391 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ‘Concluding Observations: Brazil’ (2003) UN Doc E/
2004/22 28 paras 144, 177.
392 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (note 111) paras 361, 380.
393 Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania (note 158) para 122.
394 Ibid., para 12. See also Krishna Achuthan et al. v. Malawi (note 158) para 7.

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395 Commission on Human Rights (note 177) para 45.
396 Human Rights Committee (note 321) para 285
397 For example, ‘‘The author contends that the prison diet and conditions of detention have contributed to a
worsening of his situation. He claims that the prison diet consists of two slices of (mostly dry) bread and a cup
of ‘sugar water’ in the morning, and 1/4 pound of rice and peas and flour at lunch time’’ Matthews v. Trinidad
and Tobago (note 186) para 3.2; ‘‘abysmal quality of the food’’ Pennant v. Jamaica (note 158) para 8.4; ‘‘the
quality of food and drink is very poor’’ Robinson v. Jamaica (note 283) para 10.1; ‘‘the provision of inadequate
food to detained individuals . . . does not . . . meet the requirements of article 10’’ Kelly v. Jamaica (note 126)
para 5.7; the applicant ‘‘stated that poor food had resulted in significant weight loss’’ Francis et al. v. Trinidad
and Tobago (note 335) para 2.3; ‘‘the running water in the prison is polluted with insects and human
excrement’’ Marshall v. Jamaica (note 164) para 6.7.
398 Alver v. Estonia (note 253) para 53.
399 Malawi African Association and others v. Mauritania (note 158) para 120.
400 Geneva III (note 72) art 26.
401 Limaj Case (note 200) para 288.
402 Ibid., para 283.
403 Ibid., para 289.
404 See Human Rights Watch (note 5).
405 Toebes (1999b), p. 665.
406 Livingstone (2000), pp. 309, 321.
407 Rodley, op. cit., p. 14.
408 Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network/UNAIDS (note 122), p. 130.
409 Dreschler (2006), p. 2(a).
410 Berger (2006).
411 Bernard, op. cit., 789.
412 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (adopted 10
December 1984, entered into force 26 June 1987) 1465 UNTS 85 art 19 (CAT).
413 Ibid., art 22.
414 Rodley, op. cit., p. 157.
415 Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment (adopted 18 December 2002, entered into force 22 June 2006) GA Res A/RES/57/199.
416 Rosas and Scheinin in Eide et al. (2001), p. 428.
417 Ibid.
418 Committee against Torture (note 413) art 16(1).
419 Committee against Torture ‘Concluding Observations: New Zealand’ (1998) UN Doc A/53/44 19 para 175.
420 ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment’ (13 Agust 2007) UN Doc No A/62/221 para 9.
421 Schabas (2004), pp. 417, 426.
422 Tyrer v. United Kingdom (1978) 2 EHRR 1 para 31.
423 Selmouni v. France (1999) 29 EHRR 403 para 101.
424 Henaf v. France (note 105) para 55. This evolutive interpretation of inhuman or degrading treatment is also
reflected in the approach of the Inter-American Court. ‘‘The European Court has pointed out . . . that certain
acts that were classified in the past as inhuman or degrading treatment, but not as torture, may be classified
differently in the future . . . since the growing demand for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms
must be accompanied by a more vigorous response in dealing with infractions of the basic values of democratic
societies’’. Cantoral Benevides Case (note 159) para 99.
425 Price v. UK (note 188) para 24.
426 For example, Peers v. Greece (2001) ECHR 2001*III para 74; Mayzit v. Russia (note 373) para 36; Poltoratskiy
v. Ukraine (note 104) para 131.
427 Committee against Torture (note 412) art 1(1).
428 Rodley, op. cit., p. 49.
429 Declaration in the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Treatment or Punishment (adopted by the UN General Assembly 9 December 1975) UNGA Res
3452 (XXX) (Declaration against Torture) art 1.
430 Rodley states, ‘‘Clearly . . . a punishment which does not violate the Rules . . . cannot be seen as torture’’.
Rodley, op. cit., p. 278. This suggests the possibility that treatment that contravenes the Standard Minimum
Rules could constitute torture or ill-treatment under the terms of the Committee against Torture.
431 Bernard (note 91) 790.

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