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UN encourages Sierra Leone to improve prisoners’ rights

UN encourages Sierra Leone to improve prisoners’ rights

The top United Nations envoy in Sierra Leone today presented the Government with a report aimed at encouraging it to improve prisoners’ rights, noting that failure to protect them constitutes “a threat to peace and stability” in the West African nation.

“In a country that has endured a decade-long war, peace consolidation is only achieved once all the potential threats to stability are addressed. The failure to protect and promote human rights for a particular group of people is one such threat,” stated Victor Angelo, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Executive Representative in Sierra Leone.

The report – entitled “Behind Walls: An Inventory and Assessment of Prisons in Sierra Leone” – was presented to Sierra Leone’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Pascal Egbenda, in a brief ceremony held at the Freetown headquarters of the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), which Mr. Angelo heads.

Major challenges facing prisons in Sierra Leone include overcrowding and squalid living conditions, including the lack of adequate food, clothing, medicine, hygiene and sanitation.

The result of physical inspection of the country’s 13 prisons and interviews with inmates and staff, the report highlights that though the 13 prisons have a combined capacity of 1,495 detainees, there are a total of 1,693 persons detained as of 13 April 2007. Twenty of them, including one woman, were on death row.

UNIOSIL has already put in place measures for emergency relief assistance to the prisons and is supporting the Government in developing a project to strengthen the prisons through the UN Peacebuilding Fund, which was launched in October 2006 in response to the growing global demand for sustained support to countries emerging from conflict.

The Fund supports countries before the UN Peacebuilding Commission, currently Burundi and Sierra Leone, but is also available to countries in similar circumstances as designated by the Secretary-General.

UNIOSIL has also been conducting training programmes for prison officials, which is one of the recommendations of the report released today.