Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: Detention Conditions and Ill-treatment Violate Female Prisoners' Rights

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considered a joint complaint from two Belarusian citizens who were serving administrative arrest in the temporary detention center on the street. Okrestina in Minsk and temporary detention center in Zhodino. On February 12, the Committee issued an opinion in which it decided that the constant surveillance of two female prisoners by video cameras installed in their prison cells and under the supervision of male guards constituted cruel, degrading treatment and a violation of their right to privacy.

The two applicants were 29 and 33 years old when, in 2017, administrative arrest orders were issued against them for a period of 12 and 14 days, allegedly for participating in a mass event and for petty hooliganism. They argued that the conditions in the temporary detention center in Minsk were humiliating and discriminatory towards women. They had to undress in cells that had two video cameras mounted on the ceiling, allowing all-male guards to monitor them around the clock, even while they were changing clothes, bathing or using the toilet. Male prison staff were also able to observe the applicants through peepholes in the cell doors.

They were later transferred to a temporary detention center in the city of Zhodino, where conditions were equally deplorable as they were deprived of basic hygiene and basic necessities such as soap and toilet paper. One of them was even ordered to undress and do squats when she had gone on a hunger strike. The sanitary facilities in the cells did not have walls or partitions, so female prisoners had no opportunity for privacy, especially from the attention of male guards.

After their release, they filed several separate complaints in local courts regarding conditions of detention and gender discrimination in the institutions. However, all their complaints were rejected by the courts. They then referred their case to the Committee.

The Committee noted that both victims were held in poor, unsanitary and degrading conditions in both detention facilities. “Their specific needs as women, including physiological and medical needs, were not taken into account and constitute gender discrimination,” Committee member Elgun Safarov said.

“The absence of a special room, building or cell designed to adequately accommodate women prisoners, as well as the failure of the State party to ensure the protection of their dignity, privacy, and physical and psychological safety in these institutions constitute violations by Belarus of its obligations under the Convention,” Safarov added.

The Committee recalled that, in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Rule 81 of the Nelson Mandela Rules, female prisoners must be supervised by female warders. The Committee stressed that keeping women in institutions that do not meet their specific needs constitutes discrimination.

“Prison staff must respect the privacy of women prisoners, their dignity and their medical needs. The Committee believes that ill-treatment by male staff in prisons, including unjustified interference with their privacy, constitutes discrimination,” Safarov said.

The Committee called on Belarus to provide full redress, including adequate compensation, to the two victims, as well as access to appropriate medical care to address the negative impact on physical and mental health.
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