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Whilst prosecution is viewed by some as a way to protect those held guilty from future violence and allows them to reflect on their crimes, unfortunately the end result seldom matches this depiction. In fact in nations worldwide the conditions in which people are imprisoned prove to infringe basic human rights.
A classic example is the poor prison infrastructures in Rwanda where in 1995 twenty-two Rwandan Hutus who were held in an overcrowded police cell in Kigali died shortly after government soldiers refused to respond to the tragic screams of the prisoners that were locked in a cell built to hold less than ten people. Reportedly, the Rwandan Gitarama prison which was built to hold 600 inmates actually housed 6847 and around 2300 inmates have died in prison. Deemed ‘the World’s worst prison’, it is estimated that each man has only half a square yard of space and are faced with minimal facilities. A large portion of prisoners stay in the open courtyard where most have no choice but to stand day and night and the prison lacks essential medical equipment.
Unfortunately, many children who are convicted as child soldiers are also condemned to this fate. The debate on whether child soldiers should be prosecuted is incredibly conflictual as some depict child soldiers as innocent children forced to commit atrocities, others evil villains who have killed. Regardless our view on child soldiers, no child or any person should be sent to one of these prisons and subjected to such inhuman treatment. Whilst article ten of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that both accused juvenile persons and juvenile offenders should be segregated from adults and be treated appropriately for their age, the ICCPR allows derogation of this article in ‘time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed’.
With such poor buildings and facilities, Rwandan prisons are not the only ones forced to accommodate more prisoners than initially intended, including children, and as a result prosecuted child soldiers seem to escape civil war and enter another bloody battle of survival. Indeed as they arrive at the prison nothing could prepare them for the uphill battle they face. As they enter the prison a path is somehow carved through the middle of the crowd as ‘arms like tendrils reach out to beg the attention of the newcomer; legs covered with suppurating sores are thrust forward in supplication’. It appears that penal justice is not the reflective environment we imagine and, as we delve deeper into prison facilities in conflict zones, they worrisomely resemble Dante’s Inferno.
Luckily, international movements worldwide are on the rise and are adamantly fighting against all forms of human rights abuses. A person who has acted indecently by the law should be placed where he/she can no longer harm anyone but they should never be harmed during this time. After witnessing a civil war and a genocide, Rwandan men, women and children are being humiliated and placed in these tiny confined spaces. It is incredible how much signing a simple petition against the conditions of these prisons can affect the lives of thousands – don’t miss out on making the world a little bit better.
Image 1: http://images.complex.com/complex/image/upload/t_article_image/eqkndzkhiclm6nr3uukk.jpg
Image 2: http://earthreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/petitions1.jpg