Tuesday, August 9, 2022

BONELA warns govt. against undue prison surveillance

Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) has warned government over its plans to install closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance in prisons around the country.

The motive is to detect aberrant behaviour of inmates and facilitate co-ordination of responses to incidents.

This comes after the Commissioner of Prisons, Dinah Marathe revealed before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently of their ongoing plans.

BONELA executive director Cindy Kelemi told this publication in an interview that government should be cautious of their plans as this could compromise the privacy of prisoners.

“States have an obligation to treat all prisoners with respect for their inherent dignity and value as human beings, and to prohibit torture and other forms of ill treatment including violation of the right to privacy. This is in accordance with The Nelson Mandela Rules: protecting the Rights of Persons deprived of Liberty,” she said.

Kelemi indicated that: “Government should carefully consider the location of these cameras so that they do not violate inmates’ privacy. There should be deliberate effort to balance between the right to privacy and protection of prisoners from violence and other forms of violation of other prisoners’ rights”.

She further indicated that there is need to benchmark in developed countries to establish whether or not distant monitoring of prisons is effective.

“We must benchmark to establish if remote monitoring of prisons has been implemented elsewhere with any success or notable challenges. Physical monitoring of prisons has its own loopholes, similarly, there has been violence and other reported violations amongst prisoners and that may have been due to gaps with physical monitoring. Several advanced jurisdictions extensively use modern technologies to monitor prisoners including those released on parole. We must establish how similar systems have been integrated into prisons and rehabilitation,” added Kelemi.

Kelemi also noted that they have requested a meeting with the Commissioner of Prisons, after which they will develop an advocacy strategy.

Marathe told the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) recently: “CCTV cameras will manage and monitor all prisons in the country from one central point at the command centre.” She said one of challenges they have been having was of the coordination of centres, hence a decision to establish a command centre. “We have just concluded a project in Lobatse prisons and are moving towards Mahalapye, Selebi-Phikwe and Francistown,” she added, emphasising the need for government to fund the project. Marathe said transformation of prisons is possible but is largely dependent of the government’s willingness to invest in the organisation.

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