Detention and imprisonment

In countries throughout the world people are being detained and imprisoned arbitrarily without a fair trial.  In these circumstances many face torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

Prisoners and detainees may be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.  They may be held in conditions that are so poor that they amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Aspects of detention and imprisonment that Amnesty International campaigns on include:

  • prisoners of conscience
  • arbitrary, incommunicado and secret detention and solitary confinement
  • fair trial
  • torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The issues

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights no-one may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment.  Detention is seen as ‘arbitrary’ when there is no legal basis for detention or there are grave violations of the right to a fair trial.

Detention and imprisonment which is lawful under national standards may be considered arbitrary under international standards.

Under international human rights law, all defendants have the right to a fair trial.  But in many countries throughout the world, detainees are held without due process and prisoners are convicted in trials where these safeguards have been ignored.  In some instances people are held for long periods without trial.

Torture and other forms of ill-treatment are often used alongside detention and imprisonment to gain information or a confession, as well as to punish, intimidate and threaten prisoners and detainees.

Amnesty International works for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience.  People can be made prisoners of conscience for many reasons. These include: 

  • involvement in non-violent political activities
  • belonging to a minority group struggling for autonomy
  • taking part in trade union activities
  • not using a country’s official language
  • refusing to perform military service on grounds of conscience
  • gender or sexual identity.

What Amnesty International is calling for

  • all prisoners of conscience to be set free without conditions
  • fair trials within a reasonable time or release for all political prisoners
  • all prisoners to be brought before an independent judicial authority
  • all prisoners to have access to relatives, doctors and lawyers
  • conditions of detention to follow international human rights standards
  • an end to long-term confinement in conditions of isolation
  • a prohibition on solitary confinement for imprisoned children
  • prompt and independent investigations into deaths in custody
  • safeguards against human rights violations in detention.

What Amnesty International is doing

Campaigning for the release of individual prisoners of conscience around the world has been a longstanding activity for Amnesty International.  Our activities on behalf of prisoners of conscience have led to the release of many prisoners throughout the years.

Amnesty International also calls on governments to make certain that safeguards for a fair trial are fully respected for all prisoners.  It demands that national laws and practices conform to international human rights standards to ensure that all prisoners and detainees are treated humanely.

Amnesty International takes action, often through its Urgent Action network, for prisoners and detainees whose lives or health are at risk from harsh prison conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Success story

Cuba’s longest serving prisoner of conscience, Francisco Chaviano González, was released on 10 August 2007 after spending 13 years and three months in prison. The president of the unofficial National Council for Civil Rights in Cuba was charged with “revealing state security secrets”.

His trial before a military tribunal was believed to have fallen short of fair trial standards by Amnesty International, who declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Current campaign: Close Guantánamo

It is now more than five years since the USA opened its prison camp for ‘war on terror’ suspects at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

A total of 759 people have been detained there and, despite widespread international condemnation, hundreds of people of more than 30 nationalities remain imprisoned without charge.

Amnesty International sees Guantánamo Bay as a symbol of injustice and abuse and is campaigning for its closure.

How you can help