Human Rights Watch has shed light on the coronavirus pandemic with regards to prisoners, urging the Cameroon government to do more.
Though the government took measures like; shutting schools, closing borders, banning mass gatherings, and encouraging people to follow hygiene rules, HRW says it is not enough.
“In Cameroon’s prisons, which are notably overcrowded, keeping social distance, practising self-isolation, and taking basic measures such as hand washing is just not possible” it states.
Citing the Yaounde central prison, it says the facility “currently holds about 5,000 people – 5 times its capacity – the majority of whom are in pretrial detention.”
“Other prisons are no better. The prison in Maroua, in the Far North region, was built for 350 people but currently holds over 1,470, of whom some 70 per cent are awaiting trial. The central prison in Buea, in the troubled South-West region, was built for 700 people, but currently holds over 2,000 – again with the majority in pretrial detention” it goes further.
HRW quotes a human rights lawyer who opines that “In the event of the virus spreading inside the prison, no medical care will be possible. The prisoners are piled on top of each other; it’s impossible to keep any safe distance. This prison is a volcano ready to explode.”
“Cameroonian authorities are limiting prison visits and asking visitors to wash their hands. But lawyers and family members of detainees say it’s not enough. Under international law, Cameroon must ensure the health care of people in prison, and it cannot do that in this pandemic with such overcrowding” HRW adds.
To the international body, “authorities should release individuals whose pretrial detention is not justified on public safety grounds and put in place a system for considering early or supervised release for those most at risk, including older people and people with health conditions that make the virus more dangerous for them, as well as those in custody for minor offences.”
“Anything less” to HRW, “will risk the health – and the lives – of thousands of people.”