EHRC calls for Improvement of Pre-trial Detention, Facilities Conditions

ADDIS ABABA – The conditions of pre-trial detention should be upgraded, said Ethiopia’s humanitarian agency, stressing on the need to have unvarying standards of detention facilities in the country.

The call came on the day Africa commemorates the Day that marks the Protection of Persons in Pre-trial Detention on Sunday..

In a statement Sunday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reiterates its “call for the improvement of conditions of pre-trial detention and for a robust nationwide review of the process and facilities of detention”.

Monitoring of the treatment of persons in pre-trial detention and sentenced prisoners and inspection of prison and detention facilities, both at federal and regional level, is among the major parts of the Commission’s work.

‘Legal gap an issue’

Pretrial detainees are vulnerable to various human rights violations, according to the state-financed human rights commission.

The commission has confirmed the presence of gaps in the legal framework as well as the application of the existing regulations in the country which account for the vulnerability of pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners to human rights violations.

Although the remand period can’t exceed 14 days according to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the Commission says the absence of a legal limit on a number of legally permissible remands, for instance, “has often meant that pre-trial detainees stay in remand detention for long periods, even months”.

The protection afforded to children by the criminal procedure is also not applied consistently in regional jurisdictions.

“In this regard,” the Commission “welcomes the ongoing process of amendment” of Ethiopia’s 1961 Criminal Procedure Code.

EHRC confirmed its involvement in the ongoing revision exercise. This process is expected to address several of the legal gaps in the mechanism and application of pre-trial detention, its officials said.

Standards Disparity in facilities

Pretrial detention facilities, including police stations and prisons, have a long way to align with the minimum international standards, the Commission said.

Its experts have already witnessed the disparity of standards across regional facilities and between federal and regional facilities.

This trend is also exposing pretrial detainees and prisoners to various human rights violations.

In some regions, the EHRC, without naming them, detainees “are not provided with basic amenities such as sanitary facilities or beds while others “do not provide separate sanitary facilities for women”.

“Many pre-trial detention facilities at federal and regional level do not provide food and water forcing detainees to rely on family support or even work for other detainees in exchange for meals,” it notes.

These detainees are “often denied the right to inform families of their whereabouts”, it says.

Both at federal and regional level, the Commission said it has also found a “concerning pattern” of prison authorities and police ignoring court orders for release on bail.

Desire to change?

Mismanagement or falsification of records, denial of fair trial, family visits or medical treatment and harassment of visitors are still rife in several detention and prison facilities, the Commission says.

In addition, the commission said children in detention face “secondary victimization” because there is only one detention facility for children at the federal level, and in all regional states, children in conflict with the law are imprisoned with adults.

There is, however, willingness from all regions to improve that.

“While it is encouraging that some regions have expressed willingness to address these issues and have requested for support, training and increased budget, the harmonization of standards and review of conditions of detention facilities and prisons across the country requires serious attention and a more comprehensive approach,” it says.

All regional and federal authorities need to address the legal and implementation gaps, including by allocating the required resources and identifying areas for mid-term and long-term reform to meet the minimum international standards in prison conditions, the human rights commission said.

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