Burundi has come under fire for gross overcrowding in prisons a situation that puts in question respect of prisoners rights.
According to Jean Marie Nshimirimana, founder of the association, Solidarity with Prisoners and their Families (SPF/Ntabariza) Burundi prisons are highly clogged.
“The number of prisoners is over 12,000, while the capacity of our prisons is less than 5,000 prisoners,” Nshimirimana said.
He added that prison overcrowding is far from being brought under control and conditions of detention remain precarious. The hygienic conditions leave much to be desired.
There are two main reasons for overcrowding in Burundi prisons. Firstly the prisons were built during the time of colonization. The country’s population has increased significantly, but the capacity of these prisons has remained unchanged.
Nshimirimana adds, “there is the non-respect of procedures and the slowness in the processing of files of litigants on the part of Judicial Police Officers (OPJ) and certain magistrates.”
He also accuses magistrates for dragging their feet in the implementation of the President’s appeal of incarcerating only people who have committed crimes for which there is no amnesty, such as serious rapes or violent crimes.
“But unfortunately, we continue to observe people who are imprisoned for minor offenses and because of civil debts..,” says Nshimirimana.
He added that too many prisoners are a burden on the state. They are fed, housed, cared for by the State and the latter loses enormously in economic terms.
Moreover, it is necessary that the Judicial police officers (OPJ) and the magistrates cut short with the old and bad habits of imprisoning people because of civil debts.
“We also invite the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General to carry out all-out campaigns to release prisoners who have committed minor offenses and to implement community service as provided for by the penal code in force,” noted Nshimirimana.
Nshimirimana was speaking to a local journalist attached to IWACU marking the Nelson Mandela International Day for the Rights of Detainees, celebrated every year on July 18.