Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sierra Leone prisons 'threaten peace

Sierra Leone's failure to protect the rights of prisoners is threatening the country's peace and stability, a United Nations reports says.

Many inmates endure squalid conditions, including overcrowding, poor hygiene and inadequate food, it says.

The report was presented to the government by the UN's Victor Angelo.

He said that not protecting the human rights of any group endangered the consolidation of peace in Sierra Leone after its decade-long civil war.

About 50,000 people were killed, and many more maimed and raped in the conflict which ended in 2002. 


The report - called Behind Walls: An Inventory and Assessment of Prisons in Sierra Leone - says a large number of prisoners across the country are on remand or awaiting trial.

Many prisoners had been in lock-ups for two years without indictment or a court appearance, including a sizeable number of children.

About 90% of prisoners interviewed in the country's 13 prisons did not have any legal representation during their trials.

Many prison windows not large enough to admit sufficient natural light and have no wire mesh - exposing inmates to mosquitoes and therefore malaria, the report says.

The BBC's Umaru Fofana in the capital, Freetown, says problems with the country's prisons are not a new phenomenon. Amputees play football

Prison officers often complain of a lack of resources with some paid less than $30 a month.

This has dampened moral to the extent that prisoner escapes are common place, he says.

Minister of Internal Affairs Pascal Egbenda told the BBC the judiciary should do more to attend to cases and the finance ministry should increase the budget for prisons

There is a chronic shortage of judges and prosecution lawyers because of poor pay, our reporter says.

As part of an emergency measure, the government recently recruited new graduates, trained them as magistrates and dispatched them across the country.

BBC NEWS | Africa | S Leone prisons 'threaten peace