19 November 2008 Detainees kept in police custody in Equatorial Guinea are victims of systematic torture, and prisoners suffer inhuman conditions, an independent United Nations human rights expert said in a press statement today, blaming a break down in the country’s judicial system.
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, reported that torture is used by police forces against detainees – political prisoners as well as suspects of common crimes – to extract confessions or information and sometimes as punishment, intimidatI am concerned about possible reprisals against detainees who provided testimony to us, in particular at the Central Police Stations in Malabo and Bataion or to extort money.
The police abuse reported to him and corroborated by expert medical analysis included beatings to the soles of feet and buttocks with batons, solid rubberized cables and wooden bars; electric shocks with starter cables attached to different parts of the body with alligator clips; various forms of suspension with hands and feet tied together for prolonged periods and beating victims while they swing back-and-forth.
“I am concerned about possible reprisals against detainees who provided testimony to us, in particular at the Central Police Stations in Malabo and Bata,” Mr. Nowak said after his 10-day fact-finding mission at the request of the Government.
“The fact that I was denied access to both these facilities, when I went for follow-up visits, reinforces these concerns,” he added.
He said that the absence of an independent judiciary, endemic corruption, arbitrary detention, evidence obtained through torture and the almost total impunity for those torturing prisoners are among the factors contributing to the absence of human rights for detainees in Equatorial Guinea.
Mr. Nowak noted that holding cells are dirty, humid, and lack any sanitary or sleeping facilities. Food is only provided by detainees’ families or fellow inmates and access to water for drinking and washing is severely restricted. Detainees are usually not allowed to use the toilet, and as a result must resort to using plastic bottles or plastic bags. They have no possibility to exercise and have no access to medical care.
He expressed concern that allegations of violence among detainees were frequently ignored or even tolerated by the authorities.
“The fact that many detainees are held in these conditions well beyond the maximum of 72 hours stipulated by law, sometimes up to several months, exacerbates the situation and amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Mr. Nowak.
Although prisons are spacious on the whole, the Special Rapporteur voiced concern at the prohibition of family visits. He stressed that contact with the outside world is a major component of successful rehabilitation and reintegration of detainees as required by article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Political prisoners in one prison have been held in solitary confinement for up to four years, without being allowed the one hour of exercise per day required by international minimum standards.
“Moreover, they are held in leg irons practically all the time. Prolonged solitary confinement and the permanent use of leg irons amount to inhuman treatment.”
The Special Rapporteur said that detained immigrants pending deportation were held in police cells for long periods of time in poor conditions with no food or water since they have no family nearby. They also run an increased risk of discrimination and physical abuse from other inmates with the approval of the police.
He added that women and children were also particularly vulnerable as they are not separated from men and are exposed to the risk of sexual violence, a clear violation of international norms.
“The context that allows torture to continue unabatedly is characterized by the non-functioning of the administration of justice and, therefore, the absence of the rule of law,” noted Mr. Nowak.
Mr. Nowak recommended a comprehensive institutional and legal overhaul establishing law enforcement bodies based on the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms to effectively combat torture for the country to comply with international human rights law and its own constitution.
“I would advise the international community, including trans-national corporations, to ensure that, in their development cooperation and business practices, they are not complicit in violations of human rights by state authorities.”
News Tracker: past stories on this issue