The UN Universal Periodic Review of some Commonwealth Africa member countries 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.
African countries have made significant progress in reforming penal systems by addressing overcrowding and implementing reintegration programmes. However challenges remain in relation to HIV/AIDS management and control in prisons and the custodial management of vulnerable categories of prisoners such as women and children.
The Commonwealth Secretariat and Penal Reform International have been working with more than 50 senior prison officials responsible for managing prisons and training staff in Africa and the Pacific, to strengthen the protection of human rights in prisoner care, custody and management.
The week-long courses were held in Mozambique in February 2013 and Solomon Islands in July 2012. Countries represented at the training were: Australia, Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nauru, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Tonga, Tuvalu, Uganda and Vanuatu.
The courses highlighted regional best practices in prison reform and encouraged prison officials to lead by example. It also included sessions on the well-being of prison personnel; the rights of prisoners and balancing security requirements with rehabilitation; providing adequate healthcare; and ensuring independent inspections of detention conditions.
Nikhil Roy, Programme Development Director at Penal Reform International and a course facilitator explained in 2013: “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.
“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.”
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.”
Penal Reform International