AU Watch

Arbitrary Detention

Sixty prisoners in Sierra Leone share a 25 sq m cell and are locked in for 16 hours at a stretch with a single bucket for a toilet. There are no beds or mattresses, and scabies and other infectious diseases are rife. The prison was built to accommodate around 300 inmates, but now holds more than 1,100, including many juveniles.

Too many people, all over Africa are arbitrarily detained, often for long periods of time. Many are interrogated, starved, tortured, and raped or otherwise subjected to sexual and gender-based violence.Arbitrary or unlawful detention occurs when an individual is arrested and detained by a government without due process and without the legal protections of a fair trial, or when an individual is detained without any legal basis for the deprivation of liberty.

Arbitrary arrests and detention are intimidation tactics used by governments to suppress dissent, so we monitor what the African Commission, especially the work of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention that was created during the 20thOrdinary Session of the Commission, following the Seminar on Prison Conditions in Africa (Kampala, 19 – 21 September 1996). We hold both the AU and its Members to those standards which they have set for themselves. As one of the oldest Special Mechanisms the Special Rapporteur is empowered to examine the situation of persons deprived of their liberty within the territories of States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Resolution 37 adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at the 25th Ordinary Session held in Bujumbura, Burundi form 26 April to 5 May 1999, extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. The mandate was most recently renewed with the adoption of Resolution 156 at the 46th Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia, in November 2009.