Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ugandan Prisoners Do Not Have Human Rights

The Newvision July 16 2008
LAST week it was reported that three inmates suffocated to death in Kiruhura district prison on June 29. According to the western regional Police commander, Farouk Muyirima, the prison in which the incident occurred has only two small rooms which could not accommodate 30 prisoners.

This tragedy could have been avoided if those in authority had been more responsible. Kiruhura is not the only culprit.

Luzira Maximum Prison, the biggest prison in the country, was built in 1920 to accommodate only 600 inmates but is today bursting at the seams with over 4,000 prisoners without any significant expansion. One can only imagine the conditions the inmates live in.

It is particularly pathetic that the suspects who lost their lives in Kiruhura were arrested on suspicion of being idle and disorderly when they were found drinking alcohol and playing cards in the morning.

At 52, one of the dead inmates, Ephraim Nankunda, is considered to have been of advanced age. Was the punishment and the consequent death of these people proportional to the crime they were arrested for?

The sanctity of human life cannot be overemphasised. In May, it was reported that prisoners in Kyenjojo had to walk 38km from Butiiti Prison to Kyenjojo town to attend court and walk back. The Human Rights Commission revealed that many times, these prisoners do not reach court in time and have to trudge back. This prolongs their stay in prison.

Prisons should essentially be corrective and not punitive agencies. The prisoners who are treated in such an insensitive manner are part and parcel of our society.

Anybody can go to prison no matter how humble or mighty. Although prisons are not expected to be pleasant places, they should nevertheless not resemble concentration camps where inmates lose their human identity.

The Human Rights Commission ought to follow up the Kiruhura incident and ensure redress for the dependants of the deceased.

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