Friday, February 23, 2024

UN wants cosy beds and sumptuous meals for Bots prisoners

Lack of adequate bedding provisions for Botswana’s detainees irks the United Nations. The fact that prisoners sleep on the floor or on very thin mattresses is, according to a UN report, unacceptable.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions says Botswana’s prison facilities also require fundamental refurbishment to ensure proper running water and sanitation. The quality of food provided for detainees is also a cause for concerns, the preliminary report says. “There were numerous complaints about both the quality and quantity of the food provided.”

The Working Group condemns what they call poor detention conditions which they say are prevalent in police cells and prisons in Botswana.

The UN Group is also concerned about prisoners being subjected to an “unreasonable regime” whereby they are locked up from around 4:30 pm until the next morning. 

 “While some police cells are undergoing refurbishment, most of these repair works have been outstanding for years. The Government must ensure that conditions in places of detention are fully in line with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (‘Nelson Mandela Rules’). The regime should also be adjusted to allow for reasonable evening lock-up time.”

The Group also raises alarm about remand and sentenced prisoners not being separated, saying the detainees were held together in all facilities the Group visited.

“All prisoners are required to wear a uniform, albeit of a different colour. Remand prisoners are not eligible to work or attend other programs and there is no provision for them in terms of purposeful activity.

Article 10 of the Covenant requires separation of pre-trial detainees from convicted persons and that they be treated in a manner respectful of their non-convicted status.”

The detention of girls together with women is also wrong, the Group says.

“While there are detention facilities for boys, there are no dedicated facilities in Botswana for girls. The Working Group observed that while the numbers of girls detained are commendably very low, those who are detained are held together with women prisoners.” The report says the government is obliged to ensure that children are not held in facilities mixed with adults and should cease the current practice without delay.

Concerns were also raised about minimum age of criminal responsibility. Section 13 (1) of the Penal Code sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at eight while Section 13 (2) states that a person under the age of 14 years is not criminally responsible for an act or omission unless it is proved that the person had capacity to know that he or she ought not to do the act or make the omission. 

Section 82 of the Children’s Act No. 8 of 2009 states that ‘a child under the age of 14 shall not be presumed to have the capacity to commit a crime unless it can be proven that a child had the capacity’. The Working Group says they are concerned about the discrepancy between the above provisions and that a number of stakeholders they met (including those responsible for the administration of justice) are confused about the exact minimum age of criminal responsibility in Botswana.

“Recalling the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Working Group urges the Government to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least the age of 14 without exceptions.”


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