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UN voices alarm at rising number of prison deaths

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UN News - July 21, 2008

Human rights officials with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have expressed serious concern about the living conditions in the Mbuji Mayi central prison, where at least 26 prisoners have died from severe and acute malnutrition since February.
Human rights officials with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have expressed serious concern about the living conditions in the Mbuji Mayi central prison, where at least 26 prisoners have died from severe and acute malnutrition since February.

In the latest incident at the prison, located in Kasaļ Oriental province, four prisoners died of hunger last week, bringing the total number of deaths in one month to 10.

Staff from the UN mission, known as MONUC, visited the prison to investigate after being informed about the new deaths. They found there are more than 20 prisoners on the verge of death in the prison, which houses 425 prisoners in a facility originally designed for 200.

In addition, the four prisoners who died last week were on a list of 30 prisoners whose health condition was considered alarming, and who required urgent medical care.

"MONUC expressed deep dissatisfaction to the provincial authorities on the living conditions of the prisoners," said MONUC Mbuji Mayi human rights officer Assiongbon Tettekpoe.

"Our concern is even greater as we noted that among these deaths, many of them are defendants, who are therefore presumed innocent because they have not been judged due to the slowness of the legal process," he added.

MONUC was particularly concerned at the fact that there are no specific measures being taken to ensure good conditions of detention in the prisons of Kasaļ Oriental province, despite the high number of deaths.

The mission has emphasized that Congolese authorities have the primary responsibility to ensure reasonable detention conditions for prisoners in all of the country's prisons.

To address the problem of malnutrition in the Mbuji Mayi prison, MONUC has suggested instituting a specific food and health-care budget for the prisoners. For the time being, the mission is providing water to the prison on a weekly basis. It also distributed corn for the prisoners twice a week between January and May.

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