Amnesty Report: Iceland “Vastly Overusing” Solitary Confinement

police station reykjavík

Iceland is “vastly overusing” solitary confinement in pre-trial detention a new report released by Amnesty International finds. The Director of the Icelandic Association of Betterment agrees with the report’s findings.

825 individuals placed in pre-trial solitary over past decade

On Tuesday, Amnesty International – an international non-governmental organisation focused on human rights – released a report on the harmful and unjustified use of pre-trial solitary confinement in Iceland.

The report, which is based on research and interviews with experts from across the justice system, along with individuals who have been subjected to solitary confinement, finds that “Iceland routinely applies solitary confinement for prolonged periods and even to people with pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as children and people with disabilities that would be exacerbated by solitary confinement.”

“Data obtained by Amnesty International shows that over the 10 years between 2012 and 2021, 825 individuals were placed in pre-trial solitary confinement in Iceland. Of these, 10 were aged between 15 and 17. In a small country with low rates of imprisonment generally, and pre-trial detention specifically, these figures are troubling,” the report notes.

The authors of the report state that solitary confinement is inherently problematic as far as the potential for human rights violations is concerned. International standards dictate that solitary confinement should be used only in the most exceptional cases and should always be subject to rigorous scrutiny. “Any use of solitary confinement can amount to torture,” the report notes.

Devastating effects of solitary confinement

Guðmundur Ingi Þóroddsson, chairman of Afstaða, the Icelandic Association of Betterment, agrees with the reports’ assessment. “We’ve seen devastating examples of how this affects people, even for a short period of time; some people don’t recover,” Guðmundur told RÚV this week.

Guðmundur, who has himself spent time in solitary confinement, stated that isolation amounted to nothing less than torture and that people often break on the first day.

“And it’s used on people who are mentally disabled or impaired, who face different kinds of problems, where this kind of detention only serves to exacerbate these problems, until they become completely out of control, and that’s what we’re seeing today. We have individuals in the system today who are worse off from being placed in isolation. But it is also because there are no other resources available in this country,” Guðmundur added.

A call for government action

One of the aims of Amnesty’s report is to catalyse a revision to the current legislation. The report concludes with a series of recommendations that the organisation urges the government to take.

These include:

  • Revising the Code of Criminal Procedure to remove the possibility of applying solitary confinement solely to prevent interference with, or protect the integrity of, a police investigation.
  • Identifying and introducing measures that would provide less restrictive alternatives to solitary confinement.
  • Prioritising urgent action to ensure that the application of solitary confinement is explicitly
    Prohibited on children; on persons with disabilities caused by physical, mental health or neurodiverse conditions that would be exacerbated by solitary confinement; for any longer than 15 days.
  • Introducing stronger safeguards to ensure that where solitary confinement is imposed, it is in line with human rights standards, including the prohibition of torture and the rights to fair trial and non-discrimination.

Budget Constraints Force Sale of Nation’s Only Surveillance Aircraft

TF-SIF

The operation of the Coast Guard’s surveillance aircraft, TF-SIF, will be discontinued to meet budgetary constraints. The decision marks “a major step back” in the nation’s response and surveillance capacity, the Director General of the Coast Guard noted in a recent press release.

Operations proven difficult over the recent months

The operation of the Coast Guard’s surveillance aircraft, TF-SIF, will be discontinued this year in order to streamline the Coast Guard’s operational costs, a press release from the Coast Guard notes. The Ministry of Justice sent a letter to the Coast Guard earlier this week asking the Coast Guard to prepare the sale process:

“The operation of the Coast Guard has proven difficult in recent months due to enormous oil price increases; increased operations, including a larger and more powerful patrol vessel; as well as decreased participation from Frontex (The European Border and Coast Guard Agency) than expected.”

In April of last year, Georg Kr. Lárusson, Director General of the Coast Guard, informed the Ministry of Justice that the conditions for Coast Guard’s operational budget “no longer held” owing to the fact that the current budget had not followed more extensive operations and because of increases in the price of oil and other budgetary items.

As noted in the press release, funding for the Coast Guard was increased by ISK 600 million ($4.3 million / €3.9 million) in this year’s budget. This increase was expected to prove insufficient, in light of last year’s operating deficit, unless measures were taken that would “compromise the organisation’s statutory roles and response capacity.”

A major step back in the nation’s response and surveillance capacity

Georg Kr. Lárusson observed that the decision to sell TF-SIF represented “a major step back” in the nation’s response and surveillance capacity.

“When it became clear that the organisation would not receive further financial contributions, a conversation began with the Ministry of Justice concerning possible ways to get the Coast Guard’s finances back on track. There was no good option in the situation, and we are very disappointed to be forced to stop the operation of the surveillance aircraft, given that it is a specially equipped patrol, rescue, and medical transport plane and an important part of the country’s public safety chain.:

“Since 1955, the Coast Guard has operated an aircraft for surveillance and rescue operations along the coast of Iceland. The current decision is, therefore, a major setback in the nation’s response and monitoring capacity. TF-SIF is one of the most important links in the agency’s response chain, and with this difficult decision, a large gap is cut in the Coast Guard’s operations. We also consider the presence of the plane in this country to be an urgent national security issue, especially in light of the changing global political landscape” Georg was quoted as saying.

Efling Chair Demands Meeting with Prime Minister

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir

The Chair of the Efling Union has requested a meeting with the Prime Minister following the latter’s comments on the state mediator’s mediating proposal, Vísir reports. As the courts review the legality of Efling’s first round of strikes, the union expects to vote on further strike action tomorrow.

Sólveig Anna demands a meeting

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, Chair of the Efling Union, has requested a meeting with PM Katín Jakobsdóttir regarding the latter’s comments on the state mediator’s mediating proposal (i.e. miðlunartillaga); following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Katrín stated that she believed the mediator’s proposal passes scrutiny:

“It’s clear that this mediation proposal has been submitted. I’m not in a position to assess its legality exactly, but as far as I see it, and according to the experts with which I’ve consulted, it passes scrutiny,” Katrín observed.

Sólveig subsequently sent a letter to the PM where she requested that Katrín share the advice of the experts in question so that Efling could take that advice into account. In a post on Facebook yesterday morning, Sólveig Anna stated that she had still not received an answer from the PM. According to information from the Prime Minister’s Office, upon request from Vísir, the letter will be answered, although further detail was not provided.

Strikes at Íslandshótel hotels to begin Tuesday

The Efling Union’s strike at the Íslandshotel hotels will, barring any change, commence on Tuesday. Iceland’s Labour Court has yet to rule on the legality of the strike, however, with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) having deemed it inadmissible to start strike action before votes have been cast on the mediator’s proposal. The Labour Court is expected to begin hearing the case on Friday. One expert believes that the court will rule that the strikes are illegal.

As noted by Vísir, there will be some time before votes are cast on the state mediator’s proposal as the mediator is still waiting for Efling’s electoral roll to be delivered; the union has refused to hand over the electoral roll as it deems the mediator’s proposal illegal. The Reykjavík District Court is currently reviewing the legality of the proposal.

Further strike action planned

In the meantime, Efling has called for further strike action. Voting on further strikes is set to begin at noon tomorrow. The strikes consist of temporary work stoppages by Efling members at Olíudreifing, Skeljungur, Samskip, Berjaya hotels (formerly Icelandair hotels), and the Edition hotel.

As noted by Vísir, Skeljungur handles the transportation of fuel to the Reykjavík Airport; a disruption could affect domestic flights, but how soon depends, among other things, on the inventory status at the field. According to information from Icelandair, the matter is being examined and the situation analysed in cooperation with the fire department.

A strike at Olíudreifing could have a major impact on the public given that the transport of fuel to gas stations in the capital area would come to a halt. According to information from Olíudreifing, gas tanks at stations could be empty in a few days. But how quickly that happens depends, among other things, on the stock level and whether consumers would begin hoarding gasoline before that time.

 

Search for Modestas Antanavicius Remains “Ongoing”

Modestas

The search for Modestas Antanavicius, who went missing on January 7, is still ongoing, Vísir reports. Search-and-rescue teams continue to search for Modestas when weather conditions allow.

Last seen on Saturday, January 7

On January 14, nearly 150 search-and-rescue volunteers, alongside the police and the Coast Guard, took part in an extensive search for Borgarnes resident Modestas Antanavicius, aged 46. A helicopter, numerous drones, and fourteen search dogs were employed during the search. Modestas was last seen entering an Olís gas station in Borgarnes at 17.09 AM on Saturday, January 7, prior to exiting a few minutes later. Footage of him was capture by CCTV.

In a Facebook post yesterday, the West Iceland Police announced that Modestas Antanavicius was “still missing.” The local police, alongside search-and-rescue teams and the Coast Guard, are continuing the search when conditions allow. Anyone who believes they have seen him is asked to contact the police by calling 444-0300 or 112.

“We’ve been getting tips, people saying they’ve seen something. We’ve acted on these tips, but nothing has come of it yet. We are a little ‘stopped,’ at the moment,” Ásmundur Kristinn Ásmundsson, Deputy Chief of Police of the West Iceland police, told Vísir on January 17.