UNODC presents Nelson Mandela Rules to prison administrations in the Sahel

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As the fight against violent extremist groups and criminal networks in Sahel states continues, there is an urgent need to ensure that local governments have the capabilities to arrest, prosecute, and detain such individuals. Currently, Sahel states have some of the highest prison overcrowding rates in the world. Prison reform is at the forefront of efforts to strengthen regional governance capacities and promote legal and human rights.

In partnership with the "Direction Generale de l'Administration Pénitentiaire et de la Reinsertion" (DGAPR) of Algeria, UNODC organized the second sub-regional meeting of the Sahel Prison Administrations. The meeting, funded by the government of Denmark, took place in Algiers on 27-29 September 2016.

Senior prison officials and judges from Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and host country Algeria met to review recommendations identified during the first meeting held in Niamey, Niger in 2014. Attendees emphasized the particular challenges of their respective countries while also strategizing integrated transnational approaches to prison reform.

The discussions also prioritized the application of the Nelson Mandela Rules. The Nelson Mandela Rules work to ensure the equitable treatment of detained persons and illustrate that prisons are not solely a repressive instrument, but should aim to be an avenue for the social reintegration of individuals who have committed criminal offenses. At the conclusion of the workshop UNODC distributed copies of the Nelson Mandela Rules to participants.

Participants during the regional meeting, 27-29 September 2016
Participants during the regional meeting, 27-29 September 2016

Furthermore, UNODC presented recommendations for preventing violent radicalization in prisons. This topic served as the basis for discussions related to pressing security threats throughout the region. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also presented their findings regarding the prevention of violent extremism in prisons, while the Centre Africaine d'Etudes et Récherche sur le Terrorrisme (CAERT) highlighted the outcomes of their analysis on terrorist-related security incidents in the region in 2016.

One of the topics debated at length considered the role of the judiciary in the application of criminal sentences and the promotion of alternatives to imprisonment. Attendees debated whether judicial interventions could help facilitate a critical reduction in prison overcrowding, which is common in most participating countries. The participants agreed on a set of concrete recommendations (listed below) that will guide the affected countries in their efforts to strengthen their respective Prison Administrations.

During the workshop, the Algerian DGAPR organized site visits to the Koléa prison in Algiers and the "École Nationale de Formation de l'Administration Pénitentiaire." Over the last several years, Algeria has implemented crucial reforms in its prison systems, and the visit to Koléa highlighted those efforts. Participants reported that this was one of the highlights of the gathering.

UNODC continues to support regional efforts to strengthen institutions and improve governance in the Sahel by bringing together officials from affected countries in the framework of its Sahel Programme (2013-2019), which constitutes the organization's Contribution to the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel. UNODC is working with local partners to advance prison reform initiatives that actively contribute to safety and security, while also upholding international human rights standards.

Recommendations:

1- Revise legislative frameworks by adopting laws that govern the operation of prison administration.
2- Establish a checklist/verification mechanism suited to countries in the region to support the implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules and other relevant standards with the support of UNODC.
3- Encourage states to structure prison authorities in such a way that they are equipped with a range of administrative and financial management tools.
4- Encourage states to further develop personnel management (including recruitment, training, code of conduct, etc.) as a central priority of prison policy.
5- Provide UNODC support for countries to establish of a civilian body within the prison service.
6- Enhance UNODC partnerships with states such as Algeria to support other Member States in the implementation of security risk assessment tools and prisoner classification mechanisms adapted to the needs of each country.
7- Promote internal cooperation between prison authorities and other institutions for better social reintegration of prisoners.
8. Promote the establishment of a system to better manage penalties and to advance alternatives to imprisonment.
9- Organize a UNODC-supported event to discuss issues related to sentence construction, involving sentence enforcement judges and others.
10- Support a UNODC fact-gathering initiative to explore the possibility of exploiting existing online platforms to discuss timely topics on prisons.
11- Promote cooperation between the prison administrations of different countries in the region, including the development of study tours with the support of UNODC.
12- Establish an informal network between the various prison administrations to stay abreast of relevant initiatives on prison reform.
13- Account for the linguistic specificities of certain states and allow the use of Arabic in the next sub-regional meetings of the Penitentiary Administrations of Sahel states.