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The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office briefs heads of detention facilities on national prevention of torture

23 December 2015

 MG 3995The Seimas (Parliamentary) Ombudsmen’s Office, which has been implementing national prevention of torture since 1 January 2014, has begun organising meetings with heads of detention facilities in the regions. In spring, the Parliamentary Ombudsman met the heads of adult care institutions and custody facilities to discuss both the general problems at detention facilities and the mechanism of national prevention of torture.

The meetings were used to present national prevention of torture carried out by the Parliamentary Ombudsmen and discuss the powers of the authority in terms of national prevention of torture. The events presented the methodology of inspections and specific nature of the evaluation of the human rights situation. They also provided an overview of key systemic problems identified in 2014-2015, presentation of recommendations and how institutions implemented them.

The meetings organised by the Parliamentary Ombudsmen’s Office were attended by heads of the Department of Prisons and all Lithuanian prisons, the administration of the Kaunas City Municipality, heads of care institutions of Kaunas County, representatives of the municipalities of Kaunas County, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and the Department of Supervision of Social Services.

During the meeting with heads of prisons at Lukiškės Remand Prison, Parliamentary Ombudsman and Head of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen’s Office, Augustinas Normantas, and heads of detention facilities discussed the procedure for providing information to detainees and inmates, conditions of detention in solitary confinement, use of special gear, provision of information to foreigners in their native (understandable) language, search videotaping procedures, access to and provision of medical services in prisons and other important operating issues, as well as issues of ensuring human rights and freedoms at prisons.

‘It is understandable that inmates cannot be divided into groups or specific living rooms at a correctional facility according to their choice. Nonetheless, the penal institution is responsible for the safety of inmates serving their custodial sentence and also has a positive duty to make every endeavour to ensure that the sentence can be served safely’, Mr Normantas told the meeting.

The Ombudsman noted that Lithuania is one of top three European countries in terms of the number of inmates per 100 000 population and, therefore, the problem of ensuring human rights at prisons was a very pressing one.

‘Communication with relatives is critical for the behaviour of inmates, so ensuring this right must be a priority. The European Court of Human Rights has noted that prison administration must contribute to ensuring the inmate’s rights to respect for the family’, Mr Normantas said at the meeting.

After the review of complaints from inmates, the Ombudsman has stated on numerous occasions that the situation where an inmate or detainee is unable to meet their relatives due to lack of money cannot be tolerated: ‘Instead of focusing on the recommended specific measures which should be taken by officers, our information documents draw their attention to the need to ensure human rights’.

Summarising the ideas communicated during the discussion, Živilė Mikėnaitė, Acting Head of the Department of Prisons, and the Head of the Parliamentary Ombudsmen’s Office agreed that meetings of this kind were necessary to tackle the emerging problems: ‘Dialogue is the only way to identify them and achieve any real results’.

Last year, there were 9 000 inmates at detention facilities in Lithuania, or 315 individuals per 100 000 population. The indicator per 100 000 population was 264 in Latvia, 224 in Estonia and 203 in Poland.

The Parliamentary Ombudsmen defend the human right to good public administration, which ensures human rights and freedoms, and oversee public authorities to ensure that they comply with their duty to properly serve the people. The Parliamentary Ombudsmen also carry out national prevention of torture at detention facilities under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

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