|ICRC Action on Behalf of Prisoners (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1998, 36 p.)|
To maintain decent conditions of detention it is essential to preserve contact between prisoners and their families, not only for psychological reasons but also because the family can provide the prisoner with often vital material support. But family links are sometimes severed by conflict or unrest, or the detaining authority may decide for security reasons to forbid, all such contact. The ICRC will then step in to restore it, asking that prisoners be authorized at least to communicate with their kin by means of Red Cross messages (the content of which is restricted to personal and family news), to keep in touch with them and to receive family visits throughout their detention. If necessary the ICRC may, in cooperation with the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, provide financial assistance or organize transport to help families to get to the prison, since prisoners are often held thousands of kilometres away from their homes and are otherwise totally cut off from their loved ones. The ICRC has facilitated family visits in South Africa, Indonesia, Israel, the occupied and autonomous territories and the Philippines.
The ICRC has about 60 data banks and a high-performance computer system which enable it to monitor the cases of several hundred thousand people, not all of them prisoners, on an individual basis.
One prisoner, one story
On 22 November 1994, relatives of M.A. called at the ICRC's Jerusalem office, saying they had not seen or heard from him since 7 November and asking it to trace him. As the ICRC has several offices in the region, including one in Amman (Jordan), it managed to locate him: the ICRC delegate contacted the Jordanian security services, which replied on the following day that M.A. had been held at Juweid prison since 12 November. On 8 December the prison service likewise notified the ICRC that he was in custody there.
ICRC delegates visited M.A. in Juweid prison on 13 December and drew up a full record of his personal details. M.A. told them he had been held for interrogation at the Military Intelligence Defense Department from 7 to 12 November and had subsequently been transferred to Juweid prison to await trial. After the visit the ICRC in Amman reported to its Jerusalem office, which was then able to inform the family. On 10 January 1995, M.A. was transferred again, this time to the Swaqa prison where the ICRC visited him three times, on 21 March and 29 November 1995 and on 16 March 1996. It twice sent certificates of detention to his family. M.A. was tried and sentenced to four years and eight months' imprisonment. He should therefore be released on 9 July 1999.