10 June 2014
Goma, DR Congo (East), 11 June 2014 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is concerned about the consequences of the mass jailbreak by 288 prisoners from the central prison in Bukavu, South Kivu. This kind of jailbreak from Congolese prisons is a threat to the safety of the victims of crime and witnesses who contributed to the conviction of some of the escapees. ASF is advocating improved management of prisons to avoid overpopulation and the risks of escape.
ASF is concerned about the consequences of these prison escapes for victims who have placed themselves at risk to put their attackers behind bars.
“Not only do the victims never obtain compensation for the harm suffered and the physical and social consequences on their lives, but also, even their safety after the trial is not guaranteed. It’s unacceptable”, objects Hélène Trachez, ASF Head of Mission in DR Congo.
ASF is also worried for the civil society organisations and lawyers who gather testimonies and support victims during trials. Jailbreaks by criminals also increase the insecurity of populations and instability in the region.
These mass prison escapes are usually caused by the conditions of detention, which are disastrous in DR Congo. The lack of staff to supervise prisons is glaring, and occupancy levels in prisons are well above what might be regarded as reasonable. On the day of the incident, there were 1,523 prisoners in Bukavu prison, which has a capacity of 500. “Yet the vast majority of prisoners are being held on remand. We need to combat illegal custody, to relievethe prisons”, advocates the ASF Head of Mission.
Within the context of the Support Programme Promoting Justice in the East (PARJE, entitled Uhaki Safi), ASF supports barristers in redressing the situation of persons held illegally in custody.
“We need to continue this work and ’empty’ the prisons of people who have no reason to be there, in particular people waiting for rulings for minor offences and whose release does not represent a danger to public order”, says Ms Trachez.
ASF is calling on the Congolese authorities to take all measures to guarantee the safety of victims and witnesses in trials who agree to place themselves at risk in the public interest. ASF is also launching an appeal for an improved prison policy, to be set up with the support of international sponsors. “This policy is fundamental, because it guarantees execution of court decisions. In this sense, it contributes to the safety of prison staff, parties to trials and populations. It is an essential link in the fight against impunity”, concludes the ASF Head of Mission.