Cameroon: Prisons and Detention Conditions, 2002


Commissioner Dr. Vera Mlangazuwa Chirwa, Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa visited places of detention in Cameroon from 2-15 September 2002. The objective of her visit was to assess and document the conditions of detention in Cameroon, make immediate recommendations when necessary and initiate co-operation with the Government of Cameroon towards the improvement of prison conditions in the country.


General Recommendations

  • Torture and assault of prisoners should end;
  • An end should be brought to chaining of prisoners;
  • Access to legal aid should be improved, particularly by reinforcing jurisdictional assistance and by developing mechanisms of Para-legal aid with the help of the competent NGOs according to the model of what is being done in such countries as Malawi;
  • The Government should consider the possibility of introducing an independent national monitoring mechanism, outside the prison administration, which could be making regular visits to the prisons, police stations, and gendarmerie and make reports to the President of the Republic;
  • External controls of detention in prisons, police stations and/or gendarmeries should be strengthened to contribute towards the improvement of conditions in these places of detention;
  • Government’s efforts are needed to increase the budget allocated to all the institutions which deal with persons in custody with a view to improving not only the conditions of detention but also the maintenance of buildings where live the prisoners;
  • The Government should increase the budget of the prison administration and improve the working conditions of the prison staff in terms of their accommodation, increased allowances and further training;
  • The rehabilitation of prisons should be developed and construction of new prisons completed so as to facilitate the transfer of prisoners in more humane buildings;
  • If possible, the rebuilding of prisons from local resources should be explored;
  • Human rights education for police, gendarme and prison warders should be intensified;
  • Rules and practices should be harmonised so that all prisoners have the same rights and duties in respect of visits, exercise and permission to go out, etc.;
  • NGOs, and Civil Society Organisations should play a more important role in setting up training programmes, preparing prisoners for release, etc.;
  • More activities should be offered to the prisoners, particularly the young prisoners including education, sports and recreation;
  • Protection of minors should be strengthened both within prisons and in police stations and the gendarmerie;
  • Measures such as parole, judicial control, reductions of sentences, community service, diversion, mediation and permission to go out should all be developed;
  • Magistrates should be made aware of non-custodial measures and trained, and their number should be increased, as well as that of lawyers, in order to combat prison overcrowding;
  • Communication between the police, prisons and immigration services should be reinforced in order to allow foreigners awaiting transfer to a refugee camp or deportation to be dealt with without excessive delay;
  • The quality and quantity of food should be improved both in prisons, police stations and/or the gendarmerie;
  • Programmes for the occupation and rehabilitation of prisoners should be strengthened, particularly for juveniles and prisoners serving long term sentences;
  • There should be a focal point to develop follow-up programmes after prison terms/sentence the main elements of which should be taken into consideration within the framework of prison reform and with a view to do away with recidivism caused by lack of preparation for release and lack of social, training, educational and psychological support programmes;
  • There should be a mechanism to compensate prisoners in cases of long and abusive remand in custody;
  • Information and awareness raising sessions about HIV/AIDS for prisoners should be initiated and intensified. Voluntary testing for HIV/AIDS should also be encouraged. Structures for psychological care and counselling, particularly before and after testing for those who are found to be HIV/AIDS positive should be strengthened.
  • The state should assume the responsibility for the healthcare of prisoners, even as family members, churches and others contribute towards this end;
  • Feeding of prisoners is the responsibility of the state, and government should fulfil this obligation. Civil Society and NGOs are encouraged to contribute towards the discharge of this responsibility;

Specific Recommendations to the Prison Administration

  • The Prison Administration should have a lawyer or qualified jurist in permanent employment;
  • To combat ill treatment of all kinds inflicted on prisoners, but also to improve the quality of relations between prisoners and staff, training of prison personnel should be considerably strengthened and a study should be undertaken in advance to identify the exact needs and priorities for training;
  • Communications between personnel and prisoners should be improved to encourage the development of trust, which is necessary for mutual respect to exist;
  • Minors should be kept strictly separated from adults;
  • Women should be kept separated from men;
  • Impediments should not be put in the way of visitors who, in compliance with prison regulations, want to visit prisoners;
  • Prisoners should not be threatened or punished for what they say to officials such as the Special Rapporteur after their visits to prisons;

Important Recommendations to the Police and the Gendarmerie

  • Conditions of detention in police stations and the gendarmerie should be improved without delay;
  • All persons detained by the police and gendarmerie should be allowed to receive visits from their families and friends as well as food from outside;
  • Staff should receive extra training and clear instructions so that they understand that ill treatment will under no circumstances be accepted as a means of controlling prisoners, and that according to the law they will be punished if they resort to such treatment;
  • A general re-examination of the conditions of detention in the national police establishments and gendarmerie should be made with the objective of establishing detailed and up-to-date standards for these places of detention.