Benin: Mission on Prisons and Conditions of Detention, 1999


"Benin demonstrated, in readily accepting to receive the Special Rapporteur within a short time of permission being sought that it takes its obligations as a State Party to the Charter seriously; and that it is anxious to co-operate with the Commission in their common endeavour to promote and protect human rights in Africa.

I visited prisons and detention centres in Cotonou, Porto Novo, Abomey, Parakou, Lokossa and Natitingou. Prison visits, and indeed all meetings, began with a brief account of the mandate and work of the Commission and how these justified the instant mission. Briefing by prison officials with questions from the Special Rapporteur preceded a tour of the premises of the prisons. Interviews with prisoners alone was generally the last important event of a prison visit."


To the Government

The government of Benin is to be congratulated for the steps it has taken towards addressing the serious problem of overcrowding in prisons in Benin. The construction of new prisons and on-going efforts in the same direction is highly commendable. The premium placed on respect for and protection of human rights is also worthy of praise. It is a positive step to create a Division for Human Rights in the Ministry of Justice. The recommendations which follow are given to strengthen government's efforts in trying to give meaning to the enjoyment of rights by citizens, residents and all in Benin.

  1. The care of the health needs of prisoners should be given the most urgent attention.
  2. Poor health may partly result from prison conditions, of which overcrowding is a major problem. While applauding government for the construction of new prisons, lesser outlay of capital through release of prisoners will contribute positively towards the solution of the problem. A committee, preferably, presidential to reflect the urgency of the issue and the importance which government is seen to attach to respect of rights, may visit prisons to advise the Head of State and President on inmates deserving amnesty. These may be found to include: Very old, sick or weak prisoners; Those who have been on remand for a long time; Those who have served a long sentence, and do not seem to pose any danger to security.
  3. Corruption in the judiciary and the police are concerns which should be addressed.
  4. Education against mob justice should be initiated and sustained.
  5. Training of guards, as is envisaged in the national plan of action will address the issue of good relationship between prisoners and guards. While many prisoners testified to excellent relationship of the type just mentioned, allegations of torture, illustrated from this report should be discouraged and eliminated.Guards should be given human rights education so that they will respect the rights of prisoners. It is assumed that prisoners are educated on their duties and responsibilities. All their rights should also be made known to them on their entry into prisons.
  6. The quantity and quality of food for prisoners is worthy of attention.

Medical and Legal Profession

  1. Doctors are encouraged to supplement efforts of government in catering for the health needs of prisoners. Voluntary work by doctors may serve this end.
  2. The national association of lawyers should ensure that its members carry out their obligations to their clients in prison. They may even consider providing legal aid to prisoners.

Civil Society

The Benin Human Rights Commission as well as NGOs working in prisons are encouraged to continue. They should motivate others to join them. They should also consider the establishment of a voluntary organisation such as "Prison Fellowship" (Fraternité des prisons du Benin) subject to safeguard against abuse of prisoners, who will maintain contact with assigned needy prisoners with a view to helping them find solutions to their problems.

Donor Community

Assistance in provision of medical care and transportation will help a developing country such as Benin which is concerned about improving the conditions of its prisoners, having taken the lead in such areas as construction of new prisons and increasing budgetary allocation for each prisoner.