A total of 101 people died in DR Congo detention centres in 2012, almost the double of the 2010 and 2011 figures which were 54 and 56, respectively, the United Nations said in a shocking report published on Wednesday.
Out of the 101 deaths, 24 were caused by torture or ill-treatment, the UN said in a statement, adding that other deaths were caused by overcrowding, malnutrition, limited access to health care and lack of resources.
The report, which was launched by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, painted a hellish picture of Congolese detention centres, describing the living conditions of prisoners there as ‘extremely poor and worrying’.
South African-born Pillay is said to be incensed by the findings, saying that someone deprived of their liberty should never be allowed to die of hunger or ill-treatment.
Pillay urged the government of Joseph Kabila to assume its responsibility by keeping prisoners alive and in good health in accordance with international standards.
“The very serious and persistent problems surrounding detention conditions in the DRC need to be addressed without further delay,” she said.
But Pillay’s urgent call is likely to fall in deaf ears as similar findings and calls did nothing to alleviate the problem.
“This problem is not new, it dates from the Mobutu era,” former prisoner Laurent Nkoy Losese told Moon of the South.
Losese, now living in exile, spent one year-and-half in the notorious Makala detention centre in the capital Kinshasa, and nearly died of TB.
“The UN talks too much but they lack strong monitoring mechanisms in place to continue checking if the authorities are doing something to improve the situation,” Losese charged.
Anti-UN sentiments are running high in the DRC, especially in the capital Kinshasa, as the organisation is being heavily criticised for its nearly 20 000 peacekeepers’ failure to protect populations in the east from rebel killers and gang-rapists.
Torture and other acts of intimidation, and detention without trial in undisclosed locations are widespread in DRC, where the infamous Agence Nationale des Renseignements (ANR, National Intelligence Agency) and the Republican Guard terrorise populations and lock up anyone suspected of ‘plotting to overthrow the government’.
Thousands of innocent people, including university lecturers, journalists, student activists, human rights defenders, ordinary citizens are currently languishing in DRC jails, without access to visits and medical care, according to penitentiary sources and local human rights organisations.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch severely reprimanded DRC for its appalling human rights record in its 2012 Human Rights World Report released in early February.