- The Equatoguinean opposition has all along maintained that the practise of torture remains systematic and fierce in the country. Today, the UN finally was let to confirm this.
Detainees kept in police custody in Equatorial Guinea are victims of systematic torture, and prisoners suffer inhuman conditions, an independent UN human rights expert said in a press statement today, blaming the "non-functioning" of the country's judicial system.
The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, reported that torture is used by police forces against detainees – political prisoners as well as suspects of common crimes – to extract confessions or information and sometimes as punishment, intimidation or just to extort money.
The police abuse reported to him and corroborated by expert medical analysis included beatings to the soles of feet and buttocks with batons, solid rubberised cables and wooden bars; electric shocks with starter cables attached to different parts of the body with alligator clips; various forms of suspension with hands and feet tied together for prolonged periods and beating victims while they swing back-and-forth.
"I am concerned about possible reprisals against detainees who provided testimony to us, in particular at the Central Police Stations in Malabo and Bata," Mr Nowak said after his 10-day fact-finding mission at the request of the government. "The fact that I was denied access to both these facilities, when I went for follow-up visits, reinforces these concerns," he added.
He said that "the absence of an independent judiciary, endemic corruption, arbitrary detention, evidence obtained through torture and the almost total impunity for those torturing prisoners" were among the factors contributing to the absence of human rights for detainees in Equatorial Guinea.
Mr Nowak noted that holding cells are dirty, humid, and lack any sanitary or sleeping facilities. Food is only provided by detainees' families or fellow inmates and access to water for drinking and washing is severely restricted. Detainees are usually not allowed to use the toilet, and as a result must resort to using plastic bottles or plastic bags. They have no possibility to exercise and have no access to medical care.
"The fact that many detainees are held in these conditions well beyond the maximum of 72 hours stipulated by law, sometimes up to several months, exacerbates the situation and amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment," said Mr Nowak.
Political prisoners in one prison had even been held in solitary confinement for up to four years, without being allowed the one hour of exercise per day required by international minimum standards, the UN fact-finder confirmed. "Moreover, they are held in leg irons practically all the time. Prolonged solitary confinement and the permanent use of leg irons amount to inhuman treatment."
He added that women and children were also particularly vulnerable as they are not separated from men and are exposed to the risk of sexual violence, a clear violation of international norms.
"The context that allows torture to continue unabatedly is characterised by the non-functioning of the administration of justice and, therefore, the absence of the rule of law," noted Mr Nowak.
Mr Nowak recommended a comprehensive institutional and legal overhaul establishing law enforcement bodies based on the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms to effectively combat torture for the country to comply with international human rights law and its own constitution.
"I would advise the international community, including trans-national corporations, to ensure that, in their development cooperation and business practices, they are not complicit in violations of human rights by state authorities," he said, with a clear reference to Equatorial Guinea's returned acceptance within the international community after it became a major oil producer.
Shortly after Equatorial Guinea became an oil exporter, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the country was called back, interrupting the UN's annual investigations into the country's dire human rights situation. Mr Nowak's examination of torture in Equatorial Guinea therefore is the first credible inquiry into the human rights situation in the country for years, proving nothing has changed for the better.
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