European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statement of principles
relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty
in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
issued on 20 March 2020
The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for the authorities of all member
States of the Council of Europe. There are specific and intense challenges for staff working in various places of
deprivation of liberty, including police detention facilities, penitentiary institutions, immigration detention centres,
psychiatric hospitals and social care homes, as well as in various newly-established facilities/zones where persons are
placed in quarantine. Whilst acknowledging the clear imperative to take firm action to combat COVID-19, the CPT
must remind all actors of the absolute nature of the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
Protective measures must never result in inhuman or degrading treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. In the
CPT’s view, the following principles should be applied by all relevant authorities responsible for persons deprived of
their liberty within the Council of Europe area.
1) The basic principle must be to take all possible action to
protect the health and safety of all persons deprived of their
liberty. Taking such action also contributes to preserving the
health and safety of staff.
2) WHO guidelines on fighting the pandemic as well as
national health and clinical guidelines consistent with
international standards must be respected and implemented
fully in all places of deprivation of liberty.
3) Staff availability should be reinforced, and staff should
receive all professional support, health and safety protection as
well as training necessary in order to be able to continue to
fulfil their tasks in places of deprivation of liberty.
4) Any restrictive measure taken vis-à-vis persons deprived of
their liberty to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should have a
legal basis and be necessary, proportionate, respectful of
human dignity and restricted in time. Persons deprived of their
liberty should receive comprehensive information, in a
language they understand, about any such measures.
5) As close personal contact encourages the spread of the virus,
concerted efforts should be made by all relevant authorities to
resort to alternatives to deprivation of liberty. Such an
approach is imperative, in particular, in situations of
overcrowding. Further, authorities should make greater use of
alternatives to pre-trial detention, commutation of sentences,
early release and probation; reassess the need to continue
involuntary placement of psychiatric patients; discharge or
release to community care, wherever appropriate, residents of
social care homes; and refrain, to the maximum extent
possible, from detaining migrants.
6) As regards the provision of health care, special attention will
be required to the specific needs of detained persons with
particular regard to vulnerable groups and/or at-risk groups,
such as older persons and persons with pre-existing medical
conditions. This includes, inter alia, screening for COVID-19
and pathways to intensive care as required. Further, detained
persons should receive additional psychological support from
staff at this time.
7) While it is legitimate and reasonable to suspend nonessential activities, the fundamental rights of detained persons
during the pandemic must be fully respected. This includes in
particular the right to maintain adequate personal hygiene
(including access to hot water and soap) and the right of daily
access to the open air (of at least one hour). Further, any
restrictions on contact with the outside world, including visits,
should be compensated for by increased access to alternative
means of communication (such as telephone or Voice-overInternet-Protocol communication).
8) In cases of isolation or placement in quarantine of a detained
person who is infected or is suspected of being infected by the
SARS-CoV-2 virus, the person concerned should be provided
with meaningful human contact every day.
9) Fundamental safeguards against the ill-treatment of persons
in the custody of law enforcement officials (access to a lawyer,
access to a doctor, notification of custody) must be fully
respected in all circumstances and at all times. Precautionary
measures (such as requiring persons with symptoms to wear
protective masks) may be appropriate in some circumstances.
10) Monitoring by independent bodies, including National
Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) and the CPT, remains an
essential safeguard against ill-treatment. States should continue
to guarantee access for monitoring bodies to all places of
detention, including places where persons are kept in
quarantine. All monitoring bodies should however take every
precaution to observe the ‘do no harm’ principle, in particular
when dealing with older persons and persons with pre-existing