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[Statement] 50th Ordinary Session of the ACHPR - Oral Statement by FIACAT on Conditions of Detention in Africa

October 2011

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ACHPR 50th Ordinary Session - Banjul, The Gambia

Item 8 i. on the agenda
Intersession Report of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa

Oral statement by FIACAT

Madam Chairperson,
Members of the Commission,

First of all, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) would like to thank the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa for her intersession report giving a clear and precise overview of the prison situation on the African continent.

Madam Chair,

Since the adoption of the Robben Island Guidelines by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2002, FIACAT has helped work towards their implementation, particularly to prevent any acts of torture in a place of detention. In this capacity, FIACAT has organised many workshops on the Guidelines and encouraged members of its Africa network to work towards their implementation.

Since 2006, the 16 ACAT members of the FIACAT network in Africa have been working constantly to improve conditions of detention on the Continent. To this end, the African ACATs agreed in September 2011 to establish an “Observatory of Preventive Detention in Africa”.

Madam Chair,

Detention conditions on the African Continent are deplorable and can often be described as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Notable characteristics include gross overpopulation, dilapidated buildings, non-separation of persons on remand and convicted prisoners, and very limited access to food, healthcare and leisure activities.

Prison overpopulation in most countries of sub-Saharan Africa has reached horrifying levels. For example, Lomé prison in Togo, which was built for a population of 666 prisoners, held 1557 in 2008 and 1946 in 2010, ie an occupancy rate of 325%.

The situation in Burundi prisons is similarly catastrophic. For example, the central prison of NGOZI, in the Northern region, held 1881 detainees on 03 May 2011 in premises built for 400 prisoners, ie an occupancy rate of 470%. Also very worrying is the situation at RUYIGI prison in the Central Eastern region. In May 2011, it held 911 detainees in a building intended for 300. Because of this overpopulation, access to food is very limited here. Prisoners receive less than 350 grammes of food per day.

In most of these prisons, remand and convicted prisoners are not kept apart, which limits the possibility of social reintegration and increases the risk of re-offending.

In Togo, the Commission on Debt Recovery has been able to have debt offenders sent to prison on the basis of a 2001 presidential decree. Such detentions not only exacerbate prison overpopulation, but also constitute an arbitrary form of detention. FIACAT invites the African Commission to recommend that Togo annul this decree when it examines the State periodic report.

Madam Chair,

FIACAT sees the implementation of alternative punishments to detention as a good measure in combating the cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of detention on our Continent.

The use of punishments other than detention would allow us to decrease prison overpopulation, reduce prisoner costs and therefore improve overall conditions of detention. It would also allow us to minimise contact between first offenders and dangerous prisoners, which would also reduce the likelihood of re-offending. Finally, alternative punishments to detention facilitate the social reintegration of offenders.

In Togo, the 2007 Child Code has already encompassed alternative punishments to detention for minors who break the law. When it revises its Criminal Code, the country would do well to extend these punishment measures to those convicted of minor offences, in order to improve their chances of social reintegration and to reduce prison population.

FIACAT calls on the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa to exhort member States of the African Union to work towards improving prison conditions by supporting the implementation of alternative forms of punishment to detention.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

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