June 02, Colombo: United nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Union (EU) support the Sri Lankan prisons in the context of COVID-19 by distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitization items, as well as 10 computers to keep court hearings ongoing remotely.
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus among prisoners and to safeguard prison healthcare staff, UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme (UNODC-GMCP) has provided last week to the Sri Lankan Department of Prisons 20,000 surgical face masks, 200 bottles of hand sanitizer, 1,500 pairs of hand gloves, 5,000 hand soaps and 30 infrared thermometers.
This assistance is part of an ongoing project funded by the European Union to support the Government of Sri Lanka in preventing and countering violent extremism in prison settings. Nonetheless, in an effort to deal with the effects of the pandemic, some funding has been re-directed to contribute to the COVID-19 infection prevention and control mechanisms in the country.
A handover meeting was held at the Sri Lankan Department of Prisons headquarters in Colombo, with the participation of the Commissioner General of Prisons, T.M.J.W. Tennakoon, the UN Resident Coordinator for Sri Lanka, Ms. Hanaa Singer, and the Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka, Denis Chaibi.
During the event, Ms. Singer thanked the European Union for their support to the Sri Lanka Department of Prisons through UNODC, for allowing UNODC-GMCP to take immediate measures to respond to critical needs in prisons in the context of COVID-19.
“We commend the efforts exerted to effectively keeping the spread of COVID-19 under control and for maintaining the prison population safe from it.” However, she said, “The UN shares the government’s concern on overcrowded prisons in the country and will continue supporting their efforts to ease the situation with sound rule of law.”
To keep court hearings ongoing remotely, UNODC-GMCP provided 10 computers to be set up across the Western Province of the country. As movements of prisoners have been restricted, conducting remote trials is one way of continuing and reducing backlog of cases as well as avoiding overcrowded courtrooms during a time of social distancing.
Ambassador Chaibi said it is interesting to see how UNODC has adapted to the conditions of the Sri Lanka Department of Prisons.
“This idea of remote courts is innovative and creative, using technology and to leap ahead to ensure justice. It is very impressive to be in Sri Lanka and already see the future for ourselves. Even if it is a small step, with these computers and protective items, it is a meaningful one, because the world can learn from incredible resilience in Sri Lanka.”
UNODC-GMCP also translated the “Virus and Places of Detention” guidelines for prison settings into Sinhala and Tamil languages to facilitate understanding and distribution among prison staff. In an effort to mainstream safety and hygiene in prison settings, UNODC-GMCP will include these guidelines in all ongoing training curricula for prison staff.
Earlier this year, UNODC-GMCP had deployed prison experts who are currently conducting assessments and planning training activities to assist the Sri Lanka Department of Prisons to reduce the risk of radicalization and managing violent extremist prisoners – a program funded by the European Union. Training includes dynamic security, respect and compliance of international human rights instruments and vocational training for prisoners.