Twenty-six detainees have starved to death in a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) prison since the start of 2008, according to the UN Mission in the country (MONUC).
“Four prisoners died on Sunday 13 [in Mbuji Mayi’s central prison, in Kasai Oriental province] due to severe malnutrition,” said MONUC spokeswoman Sylvie van Wildenberg.
Van Wildenberg said the prisoners had been neglected and had not received the food MONUC had been giving the prison, she said.
“Our biggest worry is that many of the dead were on remand, and therefore enjoyed a presumption of innocence as they had yet to be tried due to the slowness of the legal process,” said Assiongbon Tettekpoe, a MONUC human rights official, said.
“We have already sounded the alarm several times but nothing has changed; people in the prison are living skeletons, because of hunger they are just skin and bone,” Floribet Chebeya, an official of Voice of the Voiceless, an NGO, said.
The prison is also overcrowded, holding at least 425 prisoners. It was initially built for 200 in the 1960s.
The governor of Kasai Oriental province, Ngoy Kasandj, said there was a need to expand the prison. “We need to decongest the prison … the current system cannot accommodate more prisoners,” he said.
Kasandj attributed the overcrowding in the prisons to the population increase in the city from 500,000 in 1960 to the present four million.
“There is enough maize flour, fish and soap available for the prison and a medical-sanitary structure for the prisoners,” Kasandj said.
However, Kasandj said, the government had not done enough. “Prison maintenance should be the central government’s work but unfortunately, the Ministry of Justice does not support us,” he said.
The situation in Mbuji-Mayi is similar to other detention facilities across the country, according to human rights activists and MONUC officials.