Prison conditions: the United Nations call Benin to order
Geneva – Paris – Cotonou, 28 November 2007 – The United Nations Committee against Torture has published its recommendations on the situation in Benin. In particular it is “deeply concerned by living conditions in detention centres”.
As part of the review of the second periodic report on Benin looking at the implementation of the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment, the Committee against Torture has adopted a number of recommendations. The majority of them reflect the report by FIACAT (International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) and the OMCT (World Organisation against Torture) that was presented to experts from the Committee against Torture jointly with the committee of ACAT-Benin (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), the AFJB (Association of Women Lawyers of Benin) and ESAM (Solidarity for Children in Africa and in the World).
The Committee is concerned about detention conditions and in particular about prison overcrowding and endemic corruption. Living conditions, especially lack of food and hygiene, also alarmed the experts. They have given the Beninese authorities one year to improve the situation. The Committee also asked Benin to authorise permanent access for NGOs to places of detention. In addition, the disregard of human rights for people under arrest, such as access to a lawyer, medical care and legal help, is a further area of concern for the experts.
The Committee has called upon Benin to revise its criminal law as swiftly as possible as it does not contain a definition of torture that complies with the Convention. The experts wish to be informed of all progress made towards these amendments by October 2008 at the latest. All allegations, especially those concerning individuals responsible for law enforcement, must “immediately be investigated in an impartial and efficient manner” and a “fully independent complaints procedure” must be put in place.
Moreover, the Committee expressed its unease about information received from the coalition of NGOs that “reports a general climate of violence of which women are victims, especially slavery, rape and domestic violence while criticising low level reporting of such crimes and a low conviction rate”. Benin is expected to incorporate the crimes of domestic violence, rape within marriage and female slavery into its criminal code.
However, the NGOs are pleased that the question of minors has been tackled. The Committee believed that there were too many cases of “slavery, exploitation, prostitution, female genital mutilation, rape and infanticide” in Benin. The experts believe these acts should systematically be punished through enforcement of existing legislation. “Frequent use” of corporal punishment in the education system must firmly be fought against, principally by adopting legislation that bans it within the family and in other non-scholastic institutions. The experts also called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised in line with international levels and that detention conditions for minors be improved to ensure that the latter are not, under any circumstances, imprisoned together with adults.
In view of the absence of any commitment from the Beninese authorities to implement the above Committee recommendations, the NGOs call for a robust response. They hope that having examined the contents of the report, the Government will understand the urgency of the situation and will tackle the problems raised by the Committee’s experts. To this end, the Coalition asks Benin to adopt a national plan of action to ensure that the recommendations are properly implemented.
Further information (internet links):
The FIACAT and OMCT report on the situation in Benin (English Summary)
The United Nations Committee against Torture
The Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment
The Committee against Torture’s conclusions and recommendations (only available in French)
Committee of ACAT Benin: Pascal Zohoun and Nicaise Azomahou : email@example.com
AFJB: Firmine Kapade and Me Marie-Elise Gbedo firstname.lastname@example.org - email@example.com
ESAM: Erik FANOU-AKO : firstname.lastname@example.org
FIACAT: Guillaume Colin : email@example.com
Patrick Mutzenberg – United Nations Treaty Bodies Programme: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mariana Duarte – Violence against Women Programme: email@example.com
Cécile Trochu Grasso – Rights of the Child Programme: firstname.lastname@example.org