UN investigator tells of horrors of world prisons

Inmates at a prison in Uruguay can spend years in “tin cans” small metal boxes where temperatures rise to 140 degrees F (60 degrees C), while women and children were among prisoners in Nigeria confined to a “torture room.”
Those were among the abuses chronicled in a report released yesterday by Manfred Nowak, an Austrian human rights lawyer and UN special rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment and punishment.
Speaking to reporters after submitting his report to the UN General Assembly, Nowak said he focused on “forgotten prisons” and the treatment of children in the dozens of countries he visited.
Nowak said women and children in Lagos, Nigeria, were among the more than 100 detainees confined to the “torture room” of the Criminal Investigation Department, where torture methods included the firing of gunshots into legs and leaving the severely injured prisoners without medical treatment.
There are some 10 million people behind bars worldwide, most of them in unacceptable circumstances, Nowak said.
“My guess is that the clear majority of them have to be in conditions that are violating human dignity,” he said.
One widespread problem is overcrowding, which Nowak said he witnessed during visits to countries like Georgia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Togo.
In Indonesia and Paraguay, he said, detainees were not only deprived of food and medicine but were sometimes forced to pay a daily fee for their “accommodation” in prison cells.
Nowak’s report said he found a woman on death row in a prison in the former Soviet republic of Georgia who had been confined to a bed for years because she was paralyzed.
Child prisoners
Some governments responded positively to Nowak’s reports of torture and abusive conditions in their prisons.
He said Uruguay was taking steps to shut down the “tin cans,” which he said were an unacceptable form of incarceration. Jordan closed a prison where Nowak found cases of torture, while Nigeria has promised to do the same with the “torture room” in Lagos.
Nowak said torture was commonplace across the Arab world, although he said most Arab countries refused to let him visit their prisons and detention centers. Jordan did allow Nowak access to its jails.
Although Nowak did find cases of torture in Jordan, he said it was not systematic.
He said roughly 1 million of the world’s 10 million detainees were children, some as young as 9 or 10 years old. During prolonged periods of pretrial detention, many are not segregated from adult prisoners, leaving them open to abuse.
In countries like Indonesia, Togo and Uruguay, Nowak’s report said he found that corporal punishment was being used to discipline child detainees. In Uruguay, he found boys locked up for 22 hours a day with no toilets.
Reporters asked Nowak about the US military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba, which he has criticized in the past for harsh treatment of terrorism suspects. He doubted US President Barack Obama would be able to shut it by January as planned.
Nowak said it was up to European governments to help Obama by admitting Guantanamo Bay inmates into their countries.
Nowak was also asked about Iran, where the opposition and human rights groups say the government has tortured prisoners detained after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election sparked violent protests across the country.
Nowak said he had received many “very credible allegations” of serious torture after the Iranian election and asked the Islamic Republic if the charges were true. He said Tehran had yet to respond.

Pic: Congolese inmates