Chadian Government Must Curtail Atrocious Treatment of Inmates, Human Rights Organization Says
(New York) – In a harsh new report on prisons in Chad, Amnesty International found severely overcrowded, unventilated and filthy cells where prisoners are chained 24 hours a day and temperatures reach up to 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The human rights organization, which visited six Chadian prisons, documented men, women and children jailed together and prisoner deaths caused by rampant neglect and abuse.
Twenty recorded prisoner deaths during 2011 were caused by asphyxiation, dehydration and shootings by guards; undocumented deaths could be much higher. Medical reports by district health services while investigating cases of alleged food poisoning found postmortem symptoms consistent with heatstroke. On multiple occasions prisoners were shot dead by prison guards while rioting against appalling prison conditions. None of these incidents was investigated by the authorities.
Prisoners reported that they ate only once a day at irregular times, and that the food was of poor quality. In some cases, meals were served on collective plates from which prisoners ate in groups of six to ten; due to insufficient food supplies, some inmates received nothing at all. On several occasions, Amnesty International’s researchers witnessed food being placed directly onto a filthy mat on the floor for prisoners to eat.
Hygiene, sanitation and scarcity of water are serious concerns in Chadian prisons. In some prisons, sewage systems have been blocked for years; stagnant wastewater, combined with human excrement both in prison courtyards and outside the prisons, pose a serious health risk for inmates, staff and the local communities 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 odors were very strong as prisoners were defecating and urinating in plastic buckets or plastic bags inside the cells.”
The report, titled “Chad: ‘We Are All Dying Here:’ Human Rights Violations in Prisons,” details inhumane conditions prevalent in six of Chad’s prisons.
“Chadian prisoners face a daily struggle for survival in which the odds are often stacked against them,” said Christian Mukosa, Amnesty International’s Chad researcher.
“Detention conditions should not be so poor that a prison sentence risks becoming a death sentence.”
Prisoners have very limited access to medical treatment. In some prisons, rooms had been designated as clinics but were mostly empty or used as cells. None of the prisons had a medical doctor, and in some cases the staff exhorted prisoners who claimed to have medical skills to provide treatment to other inmates. In one case at Abéché Central Prison, Amnesty International witnessed a Cameroonian detainee sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for practicing medicine illegally, acting as a nurse and treating other prisoners.
Women and children are especially at risk because no separate facilities are set aside for them. In some prisons, women are held in the same cells as men, placing them at significant risk for gender-based and sexual violence. Even in prisons where women are given separate accommodation, male prisoners and guards move easily among female courtyards and cells.
Amnesty International found children as young as seven months with their mothers in cells; in addition, juvenile prisoners are often incarcerated alongside adult prisoners. Given Chad’s documented lack of rehabilitation programs to help reintegrate youths into society, the detention of children and juveniles has been particularly damaging to their health and development.
“Although Chad has been nominally reforming the prison sector for many years, there has been little visible improvement. The prison system in Chad lacks even the most basic elements of human comfort that might enable inmates to maintain some dignity,” said Mukosa.
“Most of the prisoners we met were emaciated and weak. Some were chained 24 hours a day for months, and many suffered from skin diseases, sexually transmitted infections, malaria or tuberculosis.”
Amnesty International is demanding that the Chadian government ensure that food, medicine and potable water are available in all prisons, and that conditions are in line with Chad’s own domestic and international standards.
The authorities must also launch immediate investigations into the litany of human rights violations and abuses committed in Chadian prisons, including the killings of prisoners by security guards in three prisons in 2011, the alleged rape of detained women by prison guards in Moussoro prison in January 2012, and the widespread use of chains to restrain prisoners.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.