The special rapporteur on prisons and conditions of detention, an adjunct to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, began work in January 1997 and has since conducted fact-finding missions to several countries. His first mission, in March 1997, was to Zimbabwe; his second, in August 1997, was to Mali.

In 1998, the special rapporteur planned to conduct missions to Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Cameroon. At

Information on
prison conditions in:

Kenya  |  Malawi
Mali  |  Mozambique
Namibia  |  Nigeria
South Africa

the October 1998 meeting of the African Commission, however, he described how he was unable to complete the Kenya and Cameroon missions due to lack of a cooperation from the authorities. On the positive side, the Malian government agreed to a follow-up mission by the special rapporteur, and reportedly took some measures to improve prison conditions based on his previous mission and report. (Illustration by John Overmyer.)


The number of people detained in national prisons increased from 6,100 in December 1996 to more than 9,000 in August 1997, the majority held without charge. The Burundian Association for the Defense of the Rights of Prisoners began a program of monitoring the treatment of the growing prison population. The group had difficulty receiving authorization to enter prisons and speak with prisoners, but the appointment of a more moderate justice minister in May 1997 may resolve this issue.

The following link provides further information on prisons in Burundi:


In its 1994 comments on the Cameroon government's second periodic report on implemention of human rights standards, the U.N. Human Rights Committee deplored the "brutality" practiced in prisons, urging authorities to adopt, "as a matter of urgency," measures to improve conditions of confinement.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that since the beginning of 1997 its delegates have been able to conduct visits to an increasing number of detention centers and prisons, to assess detention conditions, and to extend limited assistance to detainees. The ICRC also publicly reported that representations it made to authorities on detention conditions had in various cases led to improvements. For 1996, the ICRC reported that it had visited 6,117 persons held in 129 places of detention in connection with the change of regime in 1991, or for reasons linked to national security, and had registered 3,537 new detainees.


The following links provide information on prisons in Kenya:


The following link provides information on prisons in Malawi:


The African Commission's Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention inspected several Malian prisons in August 1997. In his report on the visits, he described a number of serious problems. At the Bamako Central Prison, he found unsentenced detainees who had been held on remand for more than five years. He also witnessed a guard beating an inmate. At the Tombouctou Prison, he saw an inmate in leg irons and learned that inmates were unable to see visitors. The worst abuses, however, were at the Mopti Prison, where the special rapporteur found inmates with marks of beatings by guards, a juvenile inmate in leg irons, dark cells, and a woman inmate who had been impregnated by a guard. He was also informed that a Liberian prisoner had died of starvation there.


At the end of 1997, the prison population of Mozambique was approximately 11,000, some 5,000 of whom were in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, while the remainder were under the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice. Prison conditions remained a source of grave concern in 1997. Abuse in prison was largely due to overcrowding and lack of food and medical attention, but prisoners regularly reported police beatings, rape, and demands of money in exchange for freedom or food. Chimoio's provincial prison, "Cabeça do Velho," the scene of appalling conditions and deaths in 1995 and 1996, attracted public attention again in 1997 for its poor conditions. Following the appointment of a new interior minister in November, the conditions of the ministry's jails improved, although they still suffered from shortages of food, poor hygiene, and over-crowding. The Ministry of Justice began an initiative in its jails in Sofala, central Zambézia, and Manica provinces whereby prisoners were given their own plots of land to cultivate food crops, and in Quelimane prisoners were contracted out as laborers to local businesses.

The African Commission's Special Reporteur on Prisons visited Mozambique in December 1997, inspecting seven prisons and three police stations. He found severe problems of overcrowding, with Maputo Central Prison, for example, holding 2,059 inmates in space for 800, and Beira Central Prison holding 626 inmates in space for 150. Not all prisons were packed beyond their capacity, however; Machava Prison, in Maputo, held 422 inmates in space for 600.

He described conditions at Beira Central Prison, which were particularly poor:

  All the cells [on the first floor] were extremely overcrowded. In none was there sleeping space for all of them. "Terrible" sums up the condition in the cells: it is unimaginable how all the inmates could fit into the cells . . . [T]he overcrowding was so acute that the inmates did not have sufficient space even to sit down comfortably . . . [Two inmates in a transit cell] cleaned the toilet with their bare hands.

The director of the prison told the Special Rapporteur that a new prison should be ready in mid-1998.


The following are links to information on prisons in Namibia:


Prison conditions remained life threatening in 1998. But in July, in a positive step, the new head of state General Abubakar ordered the immediate release of prisoners held for extended periods on criminal charges without trial or held despite having completed the sentences handed down by the courts.

The following are links to more information:


With the massive return in 1997 of Rwandans from abroad, military and administrative officials once more began making arrests without legal authority to do so and without following legal procedure, thus reviving practices that had diminished in 1996 with the improved functioning of the judicial system. They also began once more holding detainees in irregular places of detention in various sectors of the communes. Near the end of 1997, an estimated 40 percent of those detained in prisons and 80 percent of those detained in other facilities had no files establishing charges against them. This made it appear impossible for authorities to comply with provisions of a 1996 law setting the end of 1997 as the deadline for having appropriate warrants drawn and preliminary appearances before judges for all those arrested on or before September 8, 1996. By October, more than 120,000 persons were held in inhumane conditions, crammed into prisons and communal jails meant to house a fraction of that number. In the early part of the year, prisoners in several central prisons received no or very little food for up to ten days, supposedly because of lack of firewood for cooking. Due to insecurity in some regions, representatives of the ICRC were unable to visit an estimated 30 percent of jails in communes and police brigades.

In August 1997, soldiers reportedly executed some 150 detainees at the communal jails in Kanama and Rubavu in northwestern Rwanda. In the southern prefecture of Butare, two soldiers killed eleven detainees in Muyira commune in January and an RPA guard killed another eleven at Maraba commune in May. A prison guard in the commune of Rutongo killed eight detainees in early August.

The following links provide further information relating to prisons in Rwanda:


Prisons are often overcrowded, unsanitary, and lacking in health care and the regular provision of food.


A number of super-maximum security prisons have been planned or built in 1998, in the face of criticism by human rights groups. Prisons remained seriously overcrowded and plagued by prisoner-on-prisoner violence. Several prisoners were reported to have died during 1998 following assaults by prison staff. A pilot project for training of prisoners and prison staff in human rights norms was launched in June by the Department of Correctional Services, together with two nongovernmental organizations. In September, the government introduced to parliament important legislation designed to restructure the prison service.

In February 1997, prisoners at Helderstroom prison in the Western Cape were beaten by a correctional services "rapid reaction unit" called in to quell disturbances in the prison. In May of that year, hundreds of prisoners were allegedly beaten by the same unit at Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town, following a search for illegal weapons. Police investigations led to charges being brought against a number of staff. In March, the commissioner for correctional services stated that the use of disused mineshafts was being considered for some prisoners, whom he described as animals. This suggestion was endorsed by the minister for correctional services, but was apparently dropped after an outcry from human rights organizations. In April 1997, the minister for correctional services announced plans for the building of seven new prisons, two of them "super-maximum security" facilities. More positively, the first secure care facilities for children who had committed serious crimes were opened during 1997 with the aim of ensuring that children would not in the future be held with adults in prisons and that children would have access to educational and rehabilitative programs. Many children nonetheless remained in adult prisons.

The following are links to information relating to prisons in South Africa:

The following links set out the legal and institutional framework of the South African prison system:


There are two categories of prisons in Uganda: central government prisons and local administration prisons. The former group of prisons, which held a total of some 13,000 inmates in 1997, are under the authority of the Commissioner of Prisons, part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The latter group of prisons are independently run by local government authorities.

In 1997, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) inspected 24 central government prisons and 12 local government prisons, finding terrible conditions in both categories of facilities. Its annual report explained:

  Most of the prisons the UHRC visited were overcrowded . . . . There were more remand prisoners than convicts. Out of a total population of 13,000 prisoners in the central government prisons, about 8,000 were persons on remand or awaiting trial . . . . Due to overcrowding, prison facilities such as toilets and bathrooms were overused, and sanitation was poor. Flush toilets had broken down and were replaced with buckets, particularly at night. Toilets were filthy, and most wards smelled badly. Wards were generally unclean. Inmates complained of lice, bedbugs and fleas . . . . No prison visited had proper bedding. Prisoners slept on bare cement floor without blankets . . . . In most prisons, including Gulu, Ndorwa, Loro, Arua and Rwimi, the UHRC found many emaciated and sickly prisoners. With the exception of Luzira, prisons did not make clean drinking water available to prisoners . . . . In Kakiika Central Government Prison, Mbarara, the UHRC found a nurse using one hypodermic needle to inject all sick prisoners, a practice which spreads HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other dangerous infections . . . . Poor prison conditions have led to deaths of prisoners from malnutrition, dehydration, dysentary and pneumonia. Arua Prison reported 57 deaths in 1997, the highest number for any prison in the country . . . . Prison regulations prohibit beating of prisoners but inmates reported beating by warders. Evidence of beatings could be seen on some prisoners' bodies.


In its 1996 comments on Zambia's report on the implementation of human rights standards, the U.N. Human Rights Committee expressed great concern over the country's detention conditions, and particularly the lack of implementation of the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

The following are links to information relating to prisons in Zambia:

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