Within the past week, the Prisoners' Rights Project team at Human IS Right had the opportunity to interview a number of the students arrested in May 2013 during the riots at the University of Buea (http://goo.gl/kIVKD9). Charged with assault, theft and looting, the students spent between three to ten months at the Buea Central Prison, giving them ample opportunity to reflect on the most troubling aspects of the Cameroonian prison system. These former detainees, educated and cognisant of their human rights, were able to share their experiences and perspectives on daily life and obstacles within prison walls with the Human IS Right team.
During our interviews, we asked the University students to provide suggestions for improvements to conditions within the Buea Central Prison. They responded overwhelmingly as follows:
Food provided in the prison is insufficient in quantity and quality. This is in violation of Article 11 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Political Rights that ensures the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food.
The toilet, bathing, and shower facilities are inadequate in number and do not meet up with minimum hygiene standards. As a result, the former detainees declared that their health deteriorated during their time in prison and noted that many prisoners suffered from serious illnesses.
Proper medical attention and care is not provided to those in need. Often prisoners are forced to pay a bribe to prison officials in order to be taken to hospital when they are sick. In addition, prisoners or their family members bear the cost of medical care and treatment: many are unable to pay and thus do not receive necessary care. This lack of adequate medical care represents a breach of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of Article 16 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights.
Along the same lines, they alleged that many prisoners are at constant risk of physical and psychological abuse, verbal threats, and corporal punishment from prison staff and fellow prisoners. These allegations require a serious assessment of the procedures used by the prison staff, in order to establish whether or not they are in violation of the right to physical and moral integrity. These rights are enshrined in Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, in Article 7 of International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
The information that the Human IS Right team gathered from interviews with the former University of Buea detainees offers just a glimpse into life at Buea Central Prison. The opportunity to continue with interviews of former and current prisoners is essential to the success of our Prisoners' Rights Project. In addition, continued access to prisoners will help ensure the future of our sensitization work with stakeholders in the justice system regarding the rights of pre-trial detainees, a group that represents a majority (approximately 70%) of the Buea Central Prison population.
Written by Michela Gaffuri Riva, Prisoners' Rights Intern