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Senior UN peacekeeping official assesses DR Congo's prisons

UN News - July 22, 2009
Congo prison

A senior United Nations peacekeeping official continued his tour today of the war-ravaged eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where he is evaluating the state of the country’s troubled prison system.

Dmitri Titov, Assistant-Secretary-General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions, stopped in on the North Kivu town of Sake to visit a site designated to destroy explosives, part of the UN Mine Action Programme (UNMAC), as well as meet with members of the local judiciary.

On Monday the Assistant-Secretary-General was in the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma, inspecting the main prison where detainees rioted a few weeks ago and raped 22 female inmates.

While in Goma, Mr. Titov also met with civilian and military components of the UN peacekeeping operation in the DRC, known by its French acronym as MONUC.

At the start of his trip on Sunday, Mr. Titov voiced distress over the dilapidated state of the central prison in Bunia, the capital of the resource-rich northeastern province of Ituri, which not only lacks the basic resources to operate effectively but houses over 500 prisoners even though it is designed to accommodate no more than 200.

In a report released in March, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that little progress had been made in the reform of the DRC’s penitentiary system due to an absence of a national administrative mechanism, the limited capacity of security staff, decaying prisons, the lack of food and health care for inmates, and insufficient training.

MONUC said that among the measures it provides to support the reform of the country’s judiciary system is a five-day training programme in military justice, international criminal law, international humanitarian law, as well as issues relating to military command and sexual violence which some 600 members of the DRC armed forces (FARDC) have taken.

The peacekeeping operation has also organized, in collaboration with the United States, a workshop for 400 FARDC officers on the rule of law and military justice in the professional armed forces.

As MONUC presses for more wardens to be employed in the country’s prisons, it says that the lack of skilled staff and training and the decrepit state of penitentiaries contributes to escapes and fuels the violence in the prisons located in the most populated areas.

During this trip Mr. Titov has also visited Rutshuru, the scene of some of the most brutal fighting in the DRC, where he met with the newly deployed integrated police, and the chief of the military court.

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