Video Shows Malnutrition And Neglect Of Prisoners In South Kivu Prison

A video filmed on July 3 in Kalehe Prison, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s South Kivu province, shows a dozen young men emaciated and suffering from malnutrition. It sparked outrage among human rights defenders in DR Congo, who condemned the lack of resources for the country’s prisons.

The video was sent to the JowharObservers team and shared on Facebook. The young men, who seem emaciated, lie motionless on the ground. People try to help them by watering them with a wooden spoon. Some of the men have scabs and wounds on their arms and legs, according to the nurse who recorded the video.

The video was shot on July 3 at Kalehe Prison in South Kivu. © Screengrab of video published on Facebook

This nurse is a member of a human rights association. After receiving threats after publishing this video online, he asked to remain anonymous.

While visiting the prison on July 3 as a volunteer for this association, he said he found about 15 inmates in critical condition and completely dehydrated. He gave them some water to drink and arranged for them to be taken to the nearest health center.

‘The prisoners are not well taken care of by the state’

After seeing the video, Jean-Chrysostome Kijana, President of the Coalition for Human Rights and Civil Society, Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile in DR Congo (NDSCI), went with other members of the association to Kalehe Prison on July 4. . He found the prisoners in the same condition as the day before. Those who were taken to the health center were sent back to prison after treatment.

While we were there, we found that the situation was truly catastrophic. We found the prison with about 30 inmates, including a woman and four children, about 14 years old. They were all extremely thin, in a state of acute starvation malnutrition. There is also a contagious disease that plagues them.

As seen in this photo by Jean-Chrysostome Kijana, several juvenile inmates are suffering from skin rashes. © Jean-Chrysostome Kijana

Inside the prison there is no health infrastructure: no pharmacy, no health center, no nurses, no doctors. The prisoners are left to fend for themselves, despite their condition. There are no toilets, they have to relieve themselves in plastic pitchers. They sleep on the cement, there are no mattresses, it’s hell. As DR Congo faces a third wave of Covid-19, there are no protective measures in place.

Photos of the prison’s interior were provided to the JowharObservers team by Jean-Chrysostome Kijana. © Jean-Chrysostome Kijana

It’s pretty much the same situation in all our prisons. The prisoners are not well cared for by the state: there are no subsidies, the prisons are overcrowded. The provinces also give some money to prisons, but that money is often misused.

Prisons shouldn’t be places you go to die. The prisoners have rights that must be respected. They need to be treated well, maybe even taught a trade, as the prison also has the job of re-socializing inmates to make it easier to reintegrate into the community.

When visiting Kalehe, the NDSCI donated 200 kg of maize flour to feed the prisoners for several days. The association also warned the local authorities about the living conditions of the prisoners.

The Justice Minister of South Kivu Province, Jospin Bitafanwa Mukono, approached by the Jowharobservers, said he had visited Kalehe prison on July 3. He says there were only four sick prisoners and he made sure their treatment was provided by the provincial government. “The detention conditions in the province are not very acceptable,” he admitted. “Kalehe prison is not in the budget of the central government” [Editor’s note: unlike six of the 11 prisons in the province]. We have raised the alarm with the central government to ask them to take charge of all prisons in the province.”

In June 2021, the NSDCI launched the Citizen’s Observatory of Prisons in DR Congo to enforce the UN’s Nelson Mandela rules to protect the rights of prisoners. The Avocats Sans Frontières (Avocats Without Borders) association wrote about the issue in 2015 and said prison conditions in DR Congo “violate the rights of prisoners”.

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