27 July 2009 Long-term international support is needed to overhaul the prison system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where inmates routinely have to sleep in disease-ridden hallways and men, women and children incarcerated together, a senior United Nations peacekeeping official says.
Wrapping up a six-day visit to the DRC, Dmitri Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions, told journalists in Kinshasa on Friday that drastic changes are necessary to fix the state of the Congolese prisons.
“I’ve visited many African countries in a post-conflict situation and Goma prison is one of the most terrible prisons that I have seen,” Mr. Titov said, referring to the jail in the capital of North Kivu province in the country’s far east.
“It houses 850 inmates for an original capacity of 150, of which 650 are in pre-trial detention, and they have not yet been before a judge.”
Mr. Titov said the conditions inside the prisons were “inhumane… [and] a human rights, humanitarian and security risk,” with prisoners sleeping in septic conditions and no separation of prisoners, whether male or female, adult and child, or military and civilian.
Measures such as mobile courts and hearings in prisons are not enough, he stressed, adding that the Government must pay the salary of security forces and restructure the rule of law sector.
“Rule of law, police and justice is the main responsibility of the state and much needs to be done. International donors are providing basic assistance to the prison service, but in this area emergency support is not enough.”
In a report released in March, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that little progress had been made in the reform of the DRC’s penitentiary system due to an absence of a national administrative mechanism, the limited capacity of security staff, decaying prisons, the lack of food and health care for inmates, and insufficient training.
Long-term support from the international community is key to reform, said Mr. Titov, who also met with officials from the UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC (known as MONUC) during his visit to the country.
“Proper training, vetting and equipment needs to be undertaken by the Government of police, correctional and justice officers. This is a strategic challenge for the country and the creation of a viable rule of law sector is vital for justice, human rights and protection of civilians and also to reassure donors and investors that they can safely operate in the country.”
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