Bunia’s killer jail

Fifty-eight prisoners have died over the past two years because of poor conditions in the jail in Bunia, a town in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, say human rights workers.

“Civilians are kept with soldiers who make them clean their faecal waste by hand or pay US$20 to avoid the degrading treatment,” said Nicholas Londjiringa, coordinator of Pax Dei, an NGO based in Bunia.

“The prison resembles an old people’s home because of malnutrition and the lack of healthcare and hygiene in which the 632 detainees live,” he said, noting that the facility, converted from a pig sty with minimal work in 1960, is supposed to have a capacity of just 200 inmates.

According to Londjiringa, 27 prisoners have died since the start of 2009.

He added that police regularly took the food brought to prisoners by relatives, as well as their money, and as a result many stop visiting.

“Detainees’ families don’t even know if their loved ones are dead because their case files are still in the courts,” he said.

Only 185 of those held in the prison have been convicted of criminal offences, according to Pax Dei; the others are awaiting trial, some for years.

Bunia’s prosecutor, Chris Aberi, conceded there had been deaths in the prison because of poor conditions, but said there had not been as many as alleged by Pax Dei. He did not provide a figure of his own.

Attempts to obtain comment from prison staff were unsuccessful. One official said only the director was authorized to speak but he was on holiday in a village with no telephone reception.