Living conditions at Munzenze central prison are, in a word, deplorable. As our local correspondent in the DRC finds, inmates are suffering egregious violations against their rights as inmates – and as human beings.
Passy Mubalama, Goma
Stand at the mere entrance of the jail and you’re met with nauseating odours, mosquitoes, flies. Pressed against each other in small cells, prisoners live under inhumane conditions. Many spend the night on the floor, without mattresses.
Dutch investments in the DRC
The Dutch government calls the situation at Munzenze central prison “worrisome, and unfortunately not exceptional”. The Netherlands has invested in a women’s wing where living conditions are reportedly better. Recently, the construction of a special wing for military prisoners in the Munzenze prison also began. This was funded by the UN Peacebuilding Fund, to which the Netherlands has contributed 20 million euros.
Last year, the Dutch state spent about 805,000 euros on the rehabilitation of the Ndolo prison in Kinshasa. In a comment, a spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs told RNW that the situation in Ndolo is “remarkably better” than in other DRC prisons, although Ndolo is also overcrowded.
Since the DRC’s elections in late 2011, bilateral talks between the Netherlands and the DRC to improve prison living conditions have been almost non-existent.
The DRC is no longer one of the Netherlands’ partner countries. That means that the Dutch embassy in the DRC will no longer be involved in reformation of the country’s security sector, which includes state prisons.
The growing number of incarcerated people has an obvious impact on conditions overall, though it is particularly worrisome for the health and hygiene in the Munzenze prison.
Many prisoners have been arbitrarily detained to begin with. But on top of that, their rights are being violated.
According to Jean-Pascal, another human rights activist in Goma: “The detainees are not at all supported by the government, which is supposed to provide for their basic needs like water, food as well as primary health care.”
Basic prison system regulations are also not respected. These concern length of detention, the entitlement to three meals a day and visiting rights.
Food, only if family brings it
In fact, the prisoners’ food comes from outside – that is to say, from their families. Without them, detainees spend the night hungry.
“I have been held at this prison for three years now. To get something to eat is very difficult: if the family does not bring us food, we very often sleep on an empty stomach,” says an inmate named Kakule.
Prisoners who come from other regions or villages are worst penalized. They only get access to food when the provincial government supplies beans or sugar – which happens very rarely.
“Sometimes we go for two or three nights without eating. It is painful and difficult to live here,” says Amisi, an inmate who was transferred to Munzenze central prison two years ago.
Visits, at a price
And yet visiting a detainee at Munzenze central prison is contingent to payment. A sum varying between 44 and 88 euro cents must be handed to the wards. Though illegal, the requisite fee complicates the efforts of those who must bring food to their incarcerated relatives.
Zabibu Anna appears outside the prison after a visit. “My husband has been detained for a year,” she explains. “I do not work, it is very difficult, but I still manage to find something to feed my four children and also bring to the prison.”
She adds: “I have to pay 500 francs [about 44 euro cents] to the policemen who are assigned to the prison. Otherwise, they send me away with the food and my husband stays hungry.”
The prison guards justify the bribery by non-payment of their own salaries. “We receive a salary ranging generally between 40,000 and 50,000 Congolese francs [35 and 44 euros] a month,” says a guard requesting anonymity. “It is very difficult to make ends meet this month. We have to make do by charging visitors.”
According to the first deputy prosecutor in Goma, Tshibanda Tondoyi, “Only the recruitment of new magistrates and a review of their salaries can help decongest prisons and solve the problem of overpopulation.”
Despite repeated attempts to contact him, the director of Munzenze central prison did not wish to explain what – if anything – he intends to do to improve the living conditions behind bars.