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[Oral Statement] The Conditions of Detention in Africa

October 2013

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54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Banjul – the Gambia – 22 October – 5 November 2013

Item 10: Reports of the Members of the African Commission and Special Mechanisms –Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa

Oral Statement by FIACAT

Banjul - the Gambia, 27 Ocotober 2013

Madam President,
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.

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 pre trial detention and to facilitate the introduction of alternative punishments.

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

In Côte d’Ivoire, the number of detainees on pre trial detention accounted for only 40 % of the prison population in July 2013 but this rate has been rising steadily since the end of the post-electoral crisis. For instance, the prison of Abidjan (MACA), the main prison in the country, is by far the most overcrowded. As noted in the initial report of Côte d’Ivoire to the ACHPR, the Government has reduced the prison population from more than 5000 inmates to 2102 in April 2012. However, the MACA prison population is increasing. In July 2013, 4344 individuals were detained in the MACA. This represents an increase of over 206 % in less than 15 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.

FIACAT therefore warmly welcomes the commitment of the Special Rapporteur in favour of the adoption of Guidelines on pre trial detention.

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 Community Services 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 helps its African members to organise training sessions for the forces of law and order, in particular, police officers. For instance, a few months ago, ACAT Liberia organized a training workshop in Tubmanburg (Bomi County – Liberia) with prison guards form the Bomi central prison, police officers representing the Police County Commandant, immigration officers, representative from Government ministries and civil society organisations in order to build partnership and collaboration between stakeholders. FIACAT believes that building bridges between the police, civil society and other stakeholders will help reinforce the rule of law and the respect of human rights by the police.

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

I thank you Madam Chair.

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