56th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Banjul, Gambia, 21 April – 7 May 2015
Item 7 on the agenda:
Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa
The International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, FIACAT, would like to congratulate you on the work achieved by the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa since the 55th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. However, FIACAT is still extremely concerned by the human rights violations suffered by detainees in Africa.
As raised several times before the Commission, the state of prisons in a majority of Member States of the African Union is nothing short of catastrophic.
Problems that arise during detention are often the result of serious prison overcrowding with occupancy rates sometimes reaching three times the actual capacity. African prisons are at breaking point yet the number of detainees rises daily. In Senegal, one of the countries that the Commission is reviewing during this session, prisons are chronically overcrowded and the prison population is constantly rising: in 2011 it numbered 29,000 detainees and in 2014 this figure rose to 36,028 which represents a 24% increase in only 3 years. However, there are alternatives to prison. The Senegalese government on 28 October 2000 adopted a law that amends the Criminal Code in order to include sanctions that offer an alternative to prison for short criminal convictions, in particular in the form of community service, but in practise, these alternative measures are rarely implemented.
Prison overcrowding is also the result of almost systematic, and most of all abusive, recourse to pre-trial detention.
In Congo Brazzaville, pre-trial detention which is supposed to be used in exceptional cases appears to have become the rule. The provisions contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure setting out maximum periods of detention are not respected in practice and prisoners in pre-trial detention make up nearly 75% of the total prison population. In addition, there also in these detention centres individuals who are neither accused of an offence nor formally charged with one, nor convicted and whose detention therefore amounts to arbitrary detention.
These detainees are yet more mouths to feed in prisons where budgets have been frozen and food provision and levels of hygiene are unsatisfactory.
Accommodation conditions in African prisons are often deplorable. ACAT Senegal, during regular visits to these places, has witnessed numerous problems linked to poor ventilation and lack of proper drainage of waste water which lead to many illnesses and infections.
These conditions which violates human dignity are worsened by limited access to health care and products for basic hygiene. For example, in the detention centre Liberté 6, detainees can go without soap for over one month.
In Senegal, the on-going human-rights training of detention centre staff is inadequate. A lot of training programmes do take place throughout the country but their beneficiaries are often administrative heads and members of civil society with few links with the prisons themselves. Training of this sort ought to be offered as a priority to prison managers and guards whose jobs are to guarantee on a daily basis that human rights in places of detention are being respected.
In order to improve conditions of detention in Africa and prevent acts of torture and ill treatment in detention centres, FIACAT invites the Special Rapporteur on prisons and conditions of detention in Africa to encourage the Member States of the African Union to implement effective alternatives to prison in the form of community service and to ensure that detention time limits are respected as well as improving accommodation there and prioritising training for prison staff.