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Avoiding incommunicado detention

International standards do not expressly prohibit incommunicado detention – where a detainee is denied all contact with the outside world – in all circumstances. However, international standards provide and expert bodies have maintained that restrictions and delays in granting detainees access to a doctor and lawyer and to having someone notified about their detention are permitted only in very exceptional circumstances for very short periods of time.

The Human Rights Committee has found that the practise of incommunicado detention is conducive to torture[1] and may itself violate Article 7 or Article 10 of the ICCPR.[2] It has stated that provision should also be made against incommunicado detention as a safeguard against torture and ill-treatment.[3]

The UN Commission on Human Rights has stated that “prolonged incommunicado detention may facilitate the perpetration of torture and can in itself constitute a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”[4] The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that “torture is most frequently practised during incommunicado detention. Incommunicado detention should be made illegal, and persons held incommunicado should be released without delay.”[5]

[1] Preliminary Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Peru, UN Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.67, paras 18 and 24, 25 July 1996.

[2] Albert Womah Mukong v Cameroon, (458/1991), 21 July 1994, UN Doc. CCPR/C/51/D/458/1991; El-Megreisi v Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, (440/1990), 23 March 1994, UN Doc. CCPR/C/50/D/440/1990

[3] Human Rights Committee General Comment 20, para.11.

[4] Resolution 1997/38, para. 20.

[5] Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Doc.A/56/156, July 2001, para. 39(f).