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[Oral Statement] 52 Session of the ACHPR: The conditions of detention in Africa

October 2012

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Fifty-second ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Yamoussoukro - Côte d’Ivoire, 9 - 22 October 2012

Oral Statement by FIACAT
Item 9: Reports of the Members of the African Commission and Special Mechanisms on 25 years of the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa

Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa

Madam Chair,
Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa,

The International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) first of all wishes to thank you for your report, which presents a clear and accurate picture of your mandate and of the situation in African prisons.

The conditions of detention in Africa are deplorable and often amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. They are characterised in particular by massive overpopulation, dilapidated buildings, no separation of prisoners according to age, sex or status and very restricted access to food and medical care.

For example, Goma prison, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has a capacity of 150 but last week was holding 1080 prisoners, an occupancy rate of 720%. Similarly, at Tsévié prison in Togo, the occupancy rate in August 2012 was 380%.

Madam Chair,

In order to prevent prison overpopulation, reoffending and ill-treatment in prisons, FIACAT calls on the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa to urge the States to resist abusive recourse to remand and to facilitate the introduction of alternative punishments.

In many prisons, the majority of the prison population is held on remand for unjustified periods and this situation is now becoming the rule rather than the exception.

In Togo, 67% of prisoners in May 2012 were on remand. In the prisons in the south of the country, prisoners on remand are not separated from those serving sentences. The follow-up of prisoners on remand is still carried out manually by the registry. Many detainees remain in prison after their detention order has expired, without any legitimate reason. ACAT in Togo is aware of some prisoners being held on remand for more than eight years in Tsévié prison and seven years at Lomé prison. Togolese criminal law nevertheless stipulates that holding prisoners on remand is an exceptional measure.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the number of detainees on remand accounted for only 37.5% of the prison population in September 2012 but this rate has been rising steadily since the end of the post-electoral crisis. For example, taking only the Abidjan prison and borstal, there were 2698 detainees in August 2012 for a capacity of 1500, an increase of 596 compared with the figures presented in the State’s initial report, i.e. in less than five months.

By combating abusive recourse to remand orders, strengthening the skills of the staff guarding prisoners involved in criminal proceedings and systematically releasing detainees for whom there is no detention order, countries can significantly improve detention conditions in their prisons.

Madam Chair,

FIACAT also calls on the Special Rapporteur to urge the African States to adopt laws providing for alternative punishments to detention and to implement them.

Alternative measures in the form of activities in the general interest have many advantages since they help to reduce prison overpopulation and the costs of keeping people in prison and thus to improve detention conditions. Detainees represent an additional, less expensive labour force for local communities. Such alternatives also help to reduce to a minimum any contact between first-time offenders and dangerous delinquents, which in turn reduces the risks of re-offending. They also facilitate the social reintegration of people found guilty of a crime.

Madam Chair,

FIACAT wishes to congratulate the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa for his initiative designed to ensure that the police respect human rights. FIACAT believes that torture most often occurs during the first hours of detention and that having police forces trained in human rights and in respect for the procedural guarantees concerning detention will make it possible to prevent torture in Africa.

FIACAT has helped several of its African members to organise training sessions for the forces of law and order, in particular, officers in the judicial police. For example, in the coming months FIACAT and ACAT in Benin will be participating in providing training to the teaching staff at the Benin Police College on the provisions of the new Code of Criminal Procedure, which strengthens the presumption of innocence and the exceptional nature of detentions.

FIACAT would be very happy to have the opportunity to accompany the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in these activities.

Thank you Madam Chair.

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