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African prison officials attend human rights training

21 February 2013
The specially-designed course is encouraging leaders to make a difference in the prisons they manage

Senior prison officials and training managers from 12 African Commonwealth countries are participating in a specially-designed course on human rights in prisoner care, custody and management.

The week-long training is taking place in Maputo, Mozambique, from 18 to 22 February and marks the second regional collaboration between the Commonwealth Secretariat and Penal Reform International, a non-governmental organisation working on penal and criminal justice reform worldwide. The first training took place in the Solomon Islands in July 2012 and involved more than 20 officers from the Pacific region.

Karen McKenzie, Acting Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said the course was developed as a “direct response to interest generated from senior officials responsible for the management of prisons and the training of prison staff”.

“African countries have made significant progress in reforming penal systems by addressing overcrowding and implementing reintegration programmes. However, much more remains to be done. The key challenges in Africa remain overcrowding, HIV/AIDS and the custodial management of vulnerable categories of prisoners such as women and children,” said Ms McKenzie.

The course includes best practices in prison reform on the continent and encourages prison leaders to make a difference in the sphere of leadership in the prisons they manage, she said.

Nikhil Roy, Programme Development Director at Penal Reform International and a course facilitator explained: “The key message to participants is to not wait for the system to change or for new laws to be introduced but rather to see what change they can bring within their area of responsibility in prison management, in order to improve conditions and promote human rights.”

Gunneeta Aubuleek, Assistant Commissioner of Prisons for Mauritius, said: “This workshop has helped us to learn from best practice and learn new practices like the paralegals scheme. Issues such as overcrowding affect everyone in the region.

“Because one of our trainers is a former Governor of Prisons from the United Kingdom, John Podmore, it allows us to ‘speak the same language’. I will be taking on a new role as Head of the research and planning unit and Head of the inspectorate team, so the sessions on oversight and audit were particularly beneficial to me. I look forward to sharing what I have learnt with my colleagues in Mauritius.”

Topics being covered also include the well-being of prison personnel; the rights of prisoners and what needs to be done to address difficult issues such as balancing security requirements alongside provision of measures for rehabilitation; provision of adequate health care for prisoners; and ensuring proper mechanisms for independent inspections of detention conditions.

Levi Mboushou, Senior Superintendent of Prisons and Lecturer at the National School of Penitentiary Administration, Cameroon said:

“The Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat has made quite a laudable intervention by organising this workshop. It is going to contribute immensely to revamping and re-orienting our training approach in general as well as enriching the content of our Human Rights courses. We are going home with a bagful of recommendations to make to our government on better and modern approaches to prison management and training of prison personnel.”

The Universal Periodic Review of almost all Africa member states targeted by this second training include recommendations on improving standards of detention facilities, introducing human rights education for prisons officials and/or ensuring compliance with international human rights standards when dealing with detainees.

More than 30 senior officials from prisons training institutions and prisons management from Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Uganda are attending the workshop.