In its resolution 36/16, the Human Rights Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report on violence, death and serious injury in situations of deprivation of liberty, drawing on the experience of United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms, and seeking the views of States, including on their policies and best practices, civil society, and other relevant stakeholders. It requested the report to be presented at the forty-second session of the Human Rights Council. In preparation of this report, contributions were sought from Member States; international and regional organisations; national human rights institutions; and non-governmental organisations. 1 In addition to information received from these entities, the report draws on a range of public sources, including from United Nations human rights mechanisms, and work by civil society organisations.

The issue of violence, death and serious injury was identified by the Secretary General as one of the most important challenges pertaining to the protection of persons deprived of their liberty.2 By depriving persons of their liberty, States assume the responsibility to protect the life and bodily integrity of such persons. States are thus obligated to prevent the illtreatment of, and violence against such persons and to ensure that the conditions of a dignified life are met.

The human rights of persons deprived of their liberty are enumerated in core international human rights instruments. The right to life of all individuals, including of persons deprived of their liberty is enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as is the prohibition on arbitrary deprivation of life. The right to be protected from the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is found in Article 7 of the ICCPR and in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Persons deprived of their liberty must also be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person per Article 10 of the ICCPR. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Mandela Rules, provide States with important and detailed guidelines for protecting and fulfilling the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty.

The present report addresses the intersection between situations of deprivation of liberty and violence, death and serious injury. The report examines the vertical, horizontal and environmental causes of violence, death and serious injury in situations of deprivation of liberty. It then considers measures which should be taken to address such incidents.


With regard to drug policy and related issues, the report:

  • Recognises people who use drugs as a group “facing an increased risk of torture and ill-treatment [in detention], as law enforcement officials in some cases deliberately take advantage of the pain and suffering associated with the withdrawal syndrome displayed by drug users deprived of their liberty to elicit forced confessions. Human rights mechanisms concluded that the use of withdrawal symptoms to obtain information or confessions, to punish or to intimidate or coerce may amount to torture”; (para 6)
  • Condemns the intentional withholding of drug treatment from a person who uses drugs as a form of punishment (para 7);
  • Addresses the lack of essential healthcare in prison, also touching upon drug dependence and people living with HIV, and acknowledges that “lack of healthcare or inadequate treatment in detention for persons who use drugs can also contravenes the right to health and can contribute to deaths in detention. Access of detainees to medical treatment, including access to opioid substitution therapy, is often severely restricted even if it has been demonstrated that therapy is the most effective intervention available for the treatment of opioid dependence and that it contributes to reducing mortality” (paras 29-34);
  • Condemns violence against people who use drugs perpetrated “under the guise of treatment when placed in mandatory administrative detention” (para. 32).

Submissions by Harm Reduction International and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Earlier this year, Harm Reduction International submitted two reports to OHCHR on violence, death and serious injury in situations of deprivation of liberty – one on conditions of death row, and one on forms of violence in situations of deprivation of liberty for drug-related offences.