Conditions of detention in Venezuela continue to raise concerns, even more so due to the COVID-19 pandemic where the toll on healthcare workers is heavy, the UN human rights chief said Monday.

“Access to adequate food, water, sanitation, and health care must be guaranteed to all, in accordance with the Mandela Rules,” Michelle Bachelet said, delivering a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Mandela Rules are a minimum standard of UN rules defining solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact,” said her office.

The rights office says that solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and “prolonged” solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.

“Healthcare workers have repeatedly demonstrated for adequate and safe work conditions and access to vaccinations, citing insufficient personal protective equipment, unpaid salaries, and unsanitary conditions,” noted Bachelet.

“According to estimates, one-fifth of the people killed by COVID-19 in the country were healthcare workers. Vaccines must be accessible to all.”

She reiterated the commitment of her office on July 5, “this Independence Day in Venezuela …to continue extending our support towards the full realization of human rights in the country.”

Bachelet said she trusts that soon there will be progress towards establishing a country office for Human Rights in Venezuela.

She explained that she would present a follow-up report in September.

The rights chief welcomed new initiatives announced by Maduro’s government, including police and justice reforms.

She said police reform offers the opportunity for “stronger protection of human rights, and prevention of human rights violations” and strengthen the professionalization and training of members of the security forces.

“However, social protests continued as access to basic services remains challenging.”

The council’s debate on Venezuela continues Tuesday.

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