Chad: Prisoners face unbearable conditions
The inhumane conditions of African prisons are an issue that is generally overlooked and not often heard about. The same is with this landlocked country in the Central African region. For this reason, the plight of the country’s prisoners is unheard of. Conditions are so poor that ‘a prison sentence risks becoming a death sentence,’ says Amnesty International.
Amnesty International delegates visited six Chadian prisons in 2011 and 2012 , prompting the report , where they revealed that harsh conditioners prisoners face daily.
‘The lives of prisoners in Chad are often put at risk by harsh detention conditions including severe overcrowding in unventilated cells that can reach temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celcius’, Amnesty International said. The report describes the conditions in which detainees are held in the prisons visited by Amnesty’s research team. It details incidents in the last twelve months that include nine deaths caused by asphyxiation, five by severe dehydration and seven deaths following shootings by prison guards.
‘Chadian prisoners face a daily struggle for survival in which the odds are often stacked against them,’ said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International’s researcher for the country. ‘Most of the prisoners we met were emaciated and weak. Some were chained 24 hours a day some for months and many suffered skin diseases, sexually transmitted infections, Malaria or Tuberculosis. It is not acceptable for detention conditions to be so poor that a prison sentence risks becoming a death sentence.’
Prisoners complained that they only ate once a day at irregular times and that the food was insufficient and of poor quality. In some cases food was served on collective plates from which prisoners ate in groups of six to ten. Insufficient food left some inmates, particularly the weaker ones, received nothing at all. Amnesty International say they witnessed cases where food was put directly onto a dirty mat on the floor for prisoners to eat.
Although the Chadian constituency states that anyone has right to live in a healthy and clean environment, serious concerns regarding hygiene, sanitation and scarcity of water have been raised. Stagnant wastewater combined with human excrement can be found in prison courtyards and even outside the prisons, poseing a serious health risk for prisoners, staff and the local community in which the prisons are situated.
One prisoner told Amnesty International: ‘It was very hot in the rooms especially between March and May. The cells were very dark at night and the ventilation was very poor. The odours were very strong as prisoners were defecating and urinating in plastic buckets or plastic bags inside the cells.’
Prisoners have very limited access to medical and health care. Those suffering from serious transmissible diseases such as tuberculosis, or sexually transmitted infections and HIV, are particularly at risk.
None of the prisons had a medical doctor on the staff and in some cases prisoners who claimed to have some medical skills were requested by the staff to provide assistance and treatment to other inmates.
In Abéché Central Prison, for example, a Cameroonian detainee sentenced to two years imprisonment for practising medicine illegally was acting as a nurse and treating other detainees in the prison.
Refugees were among those detained in prisons. According to the UNHCR office in the country, 52 refugees were detained in Chadian prisons at the end of June 2012.
Ill-treatment and abominations against human rights are not the only concerns regarding the Africa’s prisoners- justice is also a major issue in the continent. Africans can be sent to prison for crimes as small as minor theft and remain there for years, without any prospect of a trial.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed serious concerns about the functioning of the judiciary in the Central African nation. It stated that “the State Party‘s judicial institutions are dysfunctional owing to a shortage of judges and prosecutors and to unmet infrastructures needs”
The Chadian prison system is also poorly funded and prison personnel are underpaid. Therefore, bribery and other forms of corruption from staff come as no surprise.
Prison situations have also denounced by various bodies, including the US State Department. Its report for 2011, released in May 2012, stated that ‘prison guards were not regularly paid and sometimes ‘released’ prisoners who offered compensation in return’.
Women and children are particularly at risk in Chadian prisons as there are no specific facilities for them. In some prisons women were held in the same cells as men placing them at significant risk of gender-based and sexual violence. Even in prisons where women had separate accommodation it was often easy for male prisoners and guards to move to and from the women’s courtyard and cells. Moreover, the lack of female prison staff among the already limited number of guards, nurses or social workers, as well as the regular presence of male guards and other prison staffs within women’s cells and courtyards, increases the risk that women and girls might face rape and other types of violence. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that: ‘The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Amnesty International’s researchers say they found children as young as 7 months staying with their mothers in cells as well as juvenile prisoners being held with adult prisoners. The detention of Chadian children has a particular impact because of the lack of rehabilitation and programs to help reintegrate them into society.
Children were detained and held together with adults, according to Amnesty’s delegates, but International law and standards as well as Chadian legislation prohibit the detention of children together with adults.
On the plus side, prisoners were permitted to observe their religious faith during their detention. Most prisons allocated prayer spaces for Muslims and Christians, and imams and chaplains were able to conduct prayers.
Ironically, the country has ratified a range of international and regional human rights treaties that protect prisoners’ rights. It has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). At the regional level, it is party to human rights treaties that guarantee the rights of people in detention in Africa, Including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
The Chadian government needs to implement adequate human, financial and technical recourses into the prisons, including food, medicine, potable water and sanitary conditions. Also, the country’s domestic legislation and international standards need to be conformed to.
The authorities must also launch immediate investigations into the litany of human rights violations and abuses committed in Chadian prisons, as well as alleged corrupt acts from prison guards. Prisoners have been killed by security guards in three prisons during 2011, as well as alleged rape of detained women by prison guards in Moussoro prison in January 2012, and the widespread use of chains to restrain prisoners.
The conditions in African prisons are generally poor, overcrowding and lack of food and sanitation is often the norm and it is hoped that governments across the continent will take the necessary actions to preserve the dignity and human rights of those in prison.