End solitary confinement and video surveillance of death row inmates

(Paris, Tokyo) FIDH and the Center for Prisoners’ Rights (CPR) denounce the use of solitary confinement and intrusive video surveillance of prisoners sentenced to death in Japan. Such measures constitute serious human rights violations and are manifestly inconsistent with Japan’s obligations under international law.

According to the latest official figures available, at the end of 2021, 107 prisoners (99 men and eight women) were on death row in Japan. Nearly half of them (47 men and two women) were in the Tokyo detention house.

CPR research revealed that prisoners on death row in the Tokyo Detention House are held in solitary confinement in 5.4 square meter cells that are monitored 24 hours a day by closed-circuit television cameras ( CCTV) placed on the ceiling. There are no obstacles in front of the cameras, so everything is filmed, including the prisoners removing their clothes and underwear, as well as their use of the toilets.

According to interviews conducted by CPR with five death row inmates in the Tokyo detention house in May 2022, four of them had been kept in solitary confinement in such cells for periods ranging from three to almost 15 years. A fifth detainee has been transferred after more than 14 years to a cell without surveillance cameras, pursuant to a transfer order dated March 1, 2022. At the time of this press release, the other four detainees remain in cells monitored by CCTV cameras. Female death row inmates in the Tokyo Detention House are also kept in solitary confinement in cells equipped with CCTV cameras manned by male and female officers.

The use of prolonged solitary confinement and constant video surveillance of prisoners on death row is inconsistent with international human rights treaties to which Japan is a state party, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

Prolonged solitary confinement, as defined by the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”), [1] does not comply with Articles 2 and 16 of the CAT, which impose an obligation on the Japanese government to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition, the UN Committee against Torture has long held that solitary confinement can constitute torture or inhuman treatment and should be prohibited for prisoners on death row. [2] Prolonged solitary confinement is also incompatible with Articles 7 and 10 of the ICCPR. Article 7 stipulates that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In its General Comment No. 20, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (CCPR) states that prolonged solitary confinement of detained or imprisoned persons may constitute acts prohibited by Article 7 of the ICCPR. [3] Furthermore, Article 10 of the ICCPR stipulates that all persons deprived of their liberty must be treated “with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”.

With regard to the 24-hour video surveillance of death row inmates, this practice is contrary to Articles 10 and 17 of the ICCPR. In its General Comment No. 21, the CCPR specifies that respect for the dignity of persons deprived of their liberty “shall be guaranteed under the same conditions as that of free persons” and that these persons enjoy all the rights set out in the ICCPR, subject to “inescapable” restrictions in a closed environment. [4] Article 17 prohibits any “arbitrary or unlawful” interference with an individual’s privacy. The criteria of wrongfulness and arbitrariness are specified by the CCPR in its General Comment No. 16, which specifies that interference authorized by the State can only take place on the basis of the law, [5] and that even the interference provided for by law “should in any event be reasonable in the particular circumstances”. [6]

Video surveillance of prisoners on death row is not required by law in Japan and its imposition appears to be arbitrary. The Prisons and Treatment of Prisoners Act (“Prisons Act 2005”) stipulates that death row inmates must be held in solitary confinement, prohibiting any contact with other prisoners. However, the Prisons Act 2005 does not include rules on the use of CCTV in cells. Accordingly, each penitentiary establishes its own Detailed Regulations on the Treatment of Inmates Requiring Special Attention (Detailed Regulations). These regulations designate death row prisoners as “detainees requiring special attention” who must be monitored by CCTV cameras “when particularly strict supervision is required”.

According to CCPR’s research, most penal institutions in Japan have published their detailed regulations. For example, the detailed regulations of Tokyo Detention House, Fukuoka Detention House and Tokushima Prison expressly state that death row prisoners whose cases are under appeal may be held in cells equipped with video surveillance. Other correctional facilities have drafted portions of the designation standards for inmates requiring special attention, so it is unclear whether death row inmates at these facilities are designated as persons requiring special attention.

According to the Tokyo Detention House’s detailed rules, prisoners on death row whose sentences are under appeal can only be held in monitoring cells “when particularly strict monitoring is required”. However, the death row prisoners questioned by the CPR at the Tokyo remand center did not attempt to commit suicide or escape, and no particular circumstances seem to justify their strict surveillance, giving the measure an arbitrary character. .

CCTV of female prisoners may constitute a further violation of their right to privacy, whenever the CCTV cameras in their cells are used by male officers, as can be inferred from the UN Rules for the Treatment of Female Prisoners and non-custodial measures for Women Offenders (the “Bangkok Rules”) and CCPR General Comment No. 16. [7]

FIDH and CPR call on the Japanese government to immediately put an end to the use of solitary confinement and video surveillance of death row inmates in all penal institutions in Japan. The two organizations also demand that death row inmates held in cells equipped with CCTV be immediately transferred to other cells without CCTV cameras.

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