Oral statement delivered by FIACAT
Conditions of Detention in Africa
CADHP 49th session – Banjul, Gambia
Item 8 on the agenda, Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Detention Conditions in Africa
The International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) wishes first of all to thank you for your between-session report which presents a clear and precise panorama of the situation of prisons on the continent of Africa.
Since the adoption in 2002 of the Robben Island Guidelines by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, FIACAT has focused a great deal of its efforts on their implementation, in particular to prevent any act of torture in a place of detention. To this end, FIACAT has organised many training sessions to publicise the Guidelines and encourage members of its network to implement them.
Since 2006, the 15 ACAT groups making up the FIACAT network in Africa have been working regularly to humanise prisons on the continent.
On the continent of Africa detention conditions are deplorable and can often be described as inhuman and degrading treatment; their chief characteristics are massive overcrowding, dilapidated buildings, lack of separation of prisoners according to age, sex or status, and very limited access to food and health care.
Prison overcrowding is atrocious in most of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and is more than 600% in some prisons.
In Burkina Faso, the main building of the Ouagadougou prison and reformatory, initially built for 450 prisoners, often houses more than 1500, an occupation rate of more than 300%. Cells measuring 9 m² originally intended for a single prisoner now contain more than 15. Lack of space means that many prisoners are reduced to sleeping in corridors and staircases.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kinshasa Penitentiary and Re-education Centre had 5897 inmates in September 2010 although its capacity is 2000 places, and the overcrowding rate in the Munzenze Central prison in Goma was 600% in June 2010.
Douala prison in Cameroon, built in 1930 for 800 prisoners, had 3549 inmates in August 2008.
The buildings in which prisoners are kept are in a very poor state, which makes their incarceration even more onerous and jeopardises their safety. As an example, the large building of Ouagadougou prison in Burkina Faso was built in 1964 and has not been renovated since. To prevent prisoners escaping, ventilation has been reduced to a minimum. The western part of the perimeter wall of Koudougou prison collapsed in 2006. To this day, no repairs have been carried out, which means that prisoners’ exercise periods are restricted to prevent any risk of escape.
In Douala and Yaoundé prisons in Cameroon, faecal matter flows along the gutters running across the prison cells because the septic tanks can no longer be emptied.
In most of these prisons, remand prisoners are not separated from those serving their sentence, which restricts reintegration of offenders into society and increases the risk of recidivism. In Benin in 2009, 74% and 88% of prisoners were on remand in the prisons of Porto Novo and Cotonou respectively. In Cameroon, of a total prison population of about 18 000 people, 12 000 are on remand.
The food given to prisoners is insufficient or almost non-existent and is the cause of much tension between prisoners. Without the support of their families, prisoners do not have access to enough food for survival. In Burkina Faso, prisoners are fed only once a day, in reduced quantities. Koudougou prison receives only one 100 kg sack of cereals per day to feed more than 250 prisoners. In Cameroon, the budget for feeding prisoners is 100 FCFA per prisoner per day. In Katanga Province in DRC, prisoners are literally starving; malnutrition is the main cause of death in the prisons in this province.
Because of the overcrowding, hygiene conditions in prisons are deplorable and access to health care is almost non-existent. In Koudougou in Burkina Faso, there are only two nurses to care for more than 250 prisoners, neither of them is on duty at night and there are never any visits by doctors. It is significant that there is no infirmary building; the building intended for the church has been requisitioned to house the sick. Because of the prison overcrowding in Ouagadougou, the annual budget allocated by the State to buy medicines for prisoners has been used up after two months. If a prisoner is seriously ill, most medical treatment can only be carried out in a hospital. Since the hospitals in Burkina Faso became State-run establishments at the beginning of 2009, prisoners are no longer exempt from medical charges. Therefore without family support, prisoners no longer have access to genuine good quality medical treatment when they are seriously ill. This problem is so serious that it is the main cause of death among prisoners.
In 2009 FIACAT, in partnership with ACAT Burkina and the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), set up activities to help prevent torture in Burkina Faso, in particular by promoting community service as an alternative punishment to imprisonment.
Community service is a punishment imposed by a court which consists of the offender doing unpaid work for the community instead of going to prison. Community service has three main objectives:
to punish the offender,
to make good the damage caused to the community,
and above all, to reintegrate the offender into society.
Community service has many advantages as it helps to overcome prison overcrowding, reduces the costs of prisoners’ keep and consequently improves detention conditions. It provides free labour for local authorities and State departments. It also makes it possible to minimise contact between first offenders and dangerous criminals, which reduces the risks of recidivism. Community service also makes it easier for offenders to be reintegrated into society.
In view of these alarming findings and this conclusive experience, FIACAT invites you, Madam President, to encourage the member states of the African Union to endeavour to achieve better conditions in prisons and to this end to encourage the provision of alternative penalties to prison.