DRC: “Prisoners die every day in our overcrowded prisons”

DRC: “Prisoners die every day in our overcrowded prisons”

A Belgian octogenarian “forgotten” in the central prison of Kinshasa.

Francis is not doing well at all. He has a high fever. He feels abandoned,” explains Emmanuel Adu Cole, president of the Bill Clinton Peace Foundation, an institution which met at the beginning of the week the Belgian octogenarian, detained for more than nine years in the central prison of Makala, in Kinshasa.

“He is being held for rape, which means he cannot expect any reduction in his sentence or parole. But his state of health is deteriorating very quickly, we need to be able to reclassify his conviction so that he can get out quickly, otherwise he will die behind bars,” Mr. Cole continues.

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Francis D.’s lawyers, Maître Philippe Chansay-Wilmotte, of the Brussels Bar, and Maître Charlène Yangazo Dimba, of the Kinshasa Bar, say nothing else and insist that Belgian diplomacy come to the aid of their client.He is an old man who denies the accusations against him, but he is isolated and cannot make himself heard. Belgian diplomacy has an obligation to come to his aid. Our client is destitute, his pension payment was suspended a long time ago.”

14,000 prisoners too many!

He needs to be treated quickly. The conditions of detention in Makala are terrible,” continues the president of the Bill Clinton Peace Foundation (FBCP).

In its regular reports, the NGO highlights the “terrible overpopulation” in the central prison of Kinshasa, a building built during colonization to accommodate a maximum of 1,500 inmates. “Today, there are more than 15,000 prisoners. I’ll let you imagine the promiscuity. Every day there are deaths in this prison. More than 600 inmates died last year, some suffocated by other inmates due to overcrowding.”

The new Congolese Minister of Justice, Constant Mutamba, visited Makala on Thursday and promised to ease overcrowding in the prison.

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“We can’t take it anymore. There are more and more prisoners, explains Daniel*, detained in pavilion 1, like Francis D., contacted this Friday by telephone.I have been here for two years without being convicted. Without ever having a judge”, he explains. A case which is far from being an exception according to the Bill Clinton Peace Foundation which, as of June 16, 2024, recorded 15,021 detainees but only 2,520 convicts. “The rest are defendants or prisoners who have never been tried or are officially awaiting trial. There are also more than 500 minors, 18 children and 350 women, of whom only 35 have been convicted. The vast majority of prisoners have no business being in prison. They all live in promiscuity, which is the best ally for any form of violence, disease or even epidemic.”

Unaffordable justice

The central prison of Makala concentrates all the excesses but the problems are found in all the prisons in the country. The failings of Congolese justice are glaring and widespread. “Prisoners generally do not know their rights,” explains Emmanuel Adu Cole. “Often they cannot afford a lawyer. In some parts of the country, there are simply no lawyers.”

The budget allocated to justice is still far too limited, making the provision of justice weak and dysfunctional. Given the vastness of the territory, the problem of geographical coverage is acute. Furthermore, access to a lawyer is not guaranteed. In the absence of a functional and subsidized legal aid system, the cost of a lawyer’s services remains largely unaffordable. In addition, since most of them are based in large urban areas, the majority of Congolese cannot use their services,” explains the NGO Lawyers Without Borders on the page of its report devoted to the DRC.

To relieve prison congestion, justice must function. The fact that we publish numerous reports to highlight the dysfunctions of our justice and the daily life of our prisons demonstrates that the Congolese power does not care about the prisoners. Once you are behind these walls, unless you have financial means, you really have to worry”concludes the head of the Bill Clinton Foundation.

* Borrowed first name.