Analysing the Human Rights Education Received by Prison Officials and its Effects on Prison Conditions in Cameroon

 

Human rights education constitutes an essential contribution to the long-term prevention of human rights abuses and represents an important investment in the endeavour to achieve a just society in which the human rights of all persons are valued and respected.[1] Human rights training for prison officials as law enforcement officers strengthens their capacity to account for the rights of others and to secure a society where everyone is respected, lives in peace and has a dignified life.

Principle 12 of the preamble of the Cameroonian Constitution[2] provides that every person has a right to life, to physical and moral integrity and to humane treatment in all circumstances and under no circumstances shall any person be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. Sadly, Cameroonian prisons are a fertile ground for widespread human rights violations and corruption, the source of which is mostly the prison personnel. Most of the cases of torture observed in Cameroon take place in prisons which may lead one to think that not enough emphasis is put on the respect for human rights in the training of prison personnel which is eventually manifested in their treatment of inmates.

There is clearly a gap between the knowledge of human rights and their implementation in this situation. Human rights are inherent and must be respected always even for persons who have lost their liberty for one reason or the other. Not very much is known about the training of prison personnel in Cameroon and the level of involvement of human rights in their curriculum but what is evident is the magnitude of the disregard for human rights in prison structures.

Penitentiary personnel are the main actors in the observation of the rights of prisoners, and so should be very knowledgeable about these rights and well master the mechanisms for their application. It is essential to properly educate persons in positions of authority on human rights to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights. Hence, it is not merely sufficient to know, but they must also be accountable for any actions taken with respect to the application of these rights. The question then is: Why are Cameroonian prisons famous for torture and other human rights abuses, which are most of the time perpetrated by the prison officials?

One thing is evident in the execution of their duties, which is the lack of accountability for the protection of human rights which has promoted impunity on one hand and corruption on the other. The 2016 Human rights report of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour made the discovery that corruption amongst prison personnel was reportedly widespread. Visitors had to bribe wardens to access inmates and prisoners also bribed them for special favours or treatment[3].

Challenges in the prison setting, especially in Cameroon go beyond malpractices by personnel. They are also characterised by the lack of resources, overcrowding and shortage of personnel, amongst other things. Issues of human rights are simply ignored also because the prisoners do not know their rights

It is the responsibility of the State to protect the rights of imprisoned persons and by consequence they have the duty to make sure that their agents know the full extent of their responsibilities especially towards the inmates. Enriching the capacity of penitentiary staff on human rights will drastically improve prison conditions in Cameroon. It is worthy to note that the National School of Penitentiary Administration (ENAP) in Buea plays an important role in the training of penitentiary officials, given that it trains an average of 600 penitentiary personnel every year – both new recruits as well as personnel on refresher courses. Additional training sessions are organised by structures such as the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF), the Commonwealth, the United Nations as well as other organisations.

Contra Nocendi therefore strongly recommends the following: training approaches be restructured and a rights based approach adopted; compulsory capacity building and refresher courses such as those organised by the NCHRF should be organised; and an effective monitoring system be put in place in addition to other efforts to ensure better prison conditions.

 

 

[1] United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

[2] Law N° 2008/001 of 14 April 2008 amending the 1972 and 1996 Constitutions.

[3] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. (2017). Cameroon 2016 Human Rights Report. Available at https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/265446.pdf

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