COVID-19 pandemic further marginalises people in places of detention in the most vulnerable countries
Oscar Ouedraogo25th August 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world and no country is being spared. In Africa, the impact of the virus varies from one country to another but post-conflict countries have been severely hit. In Central African Republic, where PRI is closely collaborating with United Nations mission MINUSCA to support reconstruction and stabilisation efforts in the country, the crisis continues to unfold.
In some of the country’s areas occupied by armed groups adverse to the capital’s central authority, violence against the general population continues to occur and poverty and vulnerability prevail among civilians as state powers fail to regain control.
Despite the strong humanitarian presence of MINUSCA and other humanitarian agencies, CAR’s government is struggling to address the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. Very limited state resources result in poor provision of the population’s vital needs, such as access to healthcare. To this day, 4,618 cases of COVID-19 have been detected, with 1,640 who have recovered and 59 deaths.
Although the response strategy adopted by the government aims, whenever possible, to take into account the needs of the penitentiary administration, very little budget is allocated, which means people in places of detention are even more at-risk than usual in current circumstances.
Places of detention in Central African Republic are faced with poor and inadequate infrastructure and high rates of overcrowding. In such a context, social distancing measures and basic hygiene practices are difficult to maintain. Moreover, prison staff lack protective equipment.
The majority of available means to counter the spread of COVID-19 in places of detention come from the country’s international donors, who are not only acting in terms of sensitisation and training of the different actors of the criminal justice system but are also providing sanitary kits and protective equipment for prison staff and people in detention.
Without such assistance, the current situation in places of detention could have been devastating. To this day, one person has died from COVID-19 in places of detention.
PRI has been coordinating the reinforcement of capacities of members of the civil society platform it created in February 2020, which seeks to support the reform of the penitentiary system in Central African Republic. Capacity building activities included equipping the members with the necessary knowledge and skills in light of COVID-19, particularly preventive measures. As a result, they were able to conduct training sessions for prison staff themselves as well as organise awareness raising activities for detainees.
Two training courses were organised for prison staff (both civilian and military) and two awareness raising sessions were held in Bangui’s places of detention in May 2020.
Sanitary products and protective equipment including face masks financed by PRI were delivered to prison staff and detainees during these activities.
In the coming days, more such activities will take places in areas where security and sanitary conditions allow access for members of the civil society platform, with the support of PRI.
In this context, PRI intends to continue its support to the Ministry of Justice beyond the threat of COVID-19, as we seek to achieve systemic reform of the penitentiary administration for humane conditions of detention and the respect of the rights of people in places of detention.