Though prisoners are restricted from enjoying some fundamental human rights, they are entitled to be protected from anything that pose a threat to their lives. Keeping prisoners in congested prisons at this difficult moments amid the continuous threat to lives by the deadly coronavirus, is unfair because the government owes the responsibility to protect and improve on the health conditions of prisoners. Prisons in Cameroon are extremely overcrowded with thousands still awaiting litigations, those with simple offenses, those with health problems and political prisoners.
Since social distancing and respiratory hygiene are the measure preventing mechanisms employed by the international community to combat the spread of COVID-19, it will be good for the government authorities to follow other governments and decongest prisons around the country. Human Right and Legal Research Centre (HRLRC) therefore adds to the voices of thousands to encouraged the government authorities to released prisoners with simple offense, minors, women and those with health problems
The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) is a civil society and human rights organization in Cameroon. The human rights body has also joined several organizations and individuals to encouraged the Cameroon government to release all prisoners with Simple offenses as a means to combating the spread of COVID-19.The Human Rights body writes as follows
“The viral disease known as COVID-19 which was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan-China has continuously infected more than a million persons and claimed thousands of lives globally. On the 11th of March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus diseases as a global pandemic given its rapid spread and fatality rate across the globe. CHRDA recognizes that in times of crisis that pose a threat of insecurity to the national and international community as a whole, some human rights are restricted. Such is the case with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic where some of the human rights are restricted like the right to movements and assembly with the borders closed and public gathering prohibited.
With the rise of COVID-19 infected persons in Cameroon, we are aware of the measures put in place by the government authorities including, the suspension of schools, banning of mass gatherings, and public awareness on the preventive measures, etc. but there is still much to be done towards preventing the spread of the pandemic in prisons around the country.
CHRDA like the rest of the world is deeply concerned about the faith of prisoners in the face of COVID-19 pandemic in Cameroon. Given the nature of prison conditions around the country, it is timely for the government authorities to act now in securing lives and preventing the potential spread of COVID-19 pandemic in various penitentiaries.
Taking into cognizance the overcrowded prisons such as the Buea Central Prison constructed to contain 700 people which now host more than 2,000 prisoners; the Maroua Central Prison which was constructed to contain 235 prisoners now host 1721 detainees amongst which are 36 minors, 36 women, 6 babies, 83 elderly persons, and others with simple offenses; the Kondengui Maximum Prison which now hosts almost 5000 Prisoners far beyond the number which it was originally constructed to contain, Bamenda Central Prison which now hosts close to a thousand prisoners with at least 30 women, minors and those with simple offenses; the New Bell Prison, etc.
The overcrowded prisons pose a threat to the detainees and the general public as no social distancing measures can be upheld to combat the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. No respiratory and general hygiene which is supposed to be respected as a response to fighting against the spread of the virus in the country
These prisons are overcrowded as a result of the crisis that is rocking the English Speaking Regions of the country, Boko Haram extremism in the Far North Region and post-electoral crisis arising from the 2019 presidential elections. Since the Anglophone crisis started in 2016, thousands of persons have been illegally arrested and detained without proper trials in various dungeons for years, including women, the sick, minors and politicians
1) the prisons are overcrowded
2) there are women in various prisons (with minor crimes)
3) there are minors in various prisons
4) there are political prisoners in various prisons
5) there are prisoners with health problems
6) there are prisoners with simple offenses
We call on the Cameroon government authorities to release all prisoners with minor crimes including political prisoners, juveniles and prisoners with health problems as this will go a long way to decongest the prison facilities in the country. This will be a plus in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country”