The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has accused government of acting unconstitutionally and unlawfully by denying inmates in the country’s prisons access to food and health care.
The commission’s report on investigations into allegations of prisoners dying of hunger at Maula Prison carried out last month, has recommended that government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs, must put in place a long-term strategy to ensure delivery of basic services.
MHRC argued that inmates are dependent on government for provision of food and health care, hence denying them the two rights is a gross violation of constitutional rights and tantamount to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
“The meaning or ramifications of this situation is that the State is failing to meet the constitutional obligation of ensuring that prisoners are confined in conditions that respect their human dignity as spelt out in Section 42 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. This is a violation of the fundamental rights to human dignity and health. It also puts the right to life at a threat,” MHRC executive secretary Grace Malera said in a questionnaire response.
The High Court in 2007 ordered government to improve prison conditions within 18 months following a lawsuit prisoners filed against government, but government has not complied with the order.
Investigation into food shortages at Maula and recently, shortage of essential drugs, attributed the problem to inadequate funding from central government.
The Maula investigations during which the officer-in-charge Lameck Banda, station officer Mtela and disciplinary officer a Mr Nsini were interviewed, found that the prison was surviving on food and medicines from well-wishers.
The investigations found that shortage of food supplies was also exacerbated by lack of fuel for prison vehicles used to ferry firewood for cooking and foodstuffs due to erratic funding.
“This was highlighted to have been the result of the erratic funding to the prison and particularly the fact that there was no funding for December 2013 to the facility,” the report reads.
On the heels of food shortages came revelations that prisons have no medicines and have been relying on partners such as the Centre for Legal Assistance (Cela) and ABC Clinic to treat inmates using private doctors.
However, MHRC said it had not received latest reports of shortages of essential medicines but plans to institute investigations.
Malera said inadequate space in prisons and lack of readily available transport for emergency referrals to government district hospitals was a perennial problem the commission had noted previously.
In a recent interview on a similar development, Minister of Home Affairs Uladi Mussa told The Nation that government was in the process of improving prison conditions to reduce congestion.
Mussa admitted that Malawi Prison Services like many government institutions was inadequately funded because government did not have enough money to go around.