DR Congo: Video shows malnutrition and inmate neglect at South Kivu prison

A video taken on July 3 shows inmates in Kalehe prison in DR Congo suffering from malnutrition.
A video taken on July 3 shows inmates in Kalehe prison in DR Congo suffering from malnutrition. © Facebook

A video filmed on July 3 in the Kalehe prison, in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, shows a dozen young men emaciated and suffering from malnutrition. It has sparked outrage among human rights defenders in DR Congo, who have condemned the lack of resources allocated to the country's prisons.

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The video was sent to the FRANCE 24 Observers team and shared on Facebook. The young men, who seem emaciated, are lying on the floor motionless. People are trying to help them, giving them water with a wooden spoon. Some of the men have scabs and wounds on their arms and legs, according to the nurse who filmed the video.

The video was filmed on July 3 in Kalehe prison in South Kivu.
The video was filmed on July 3 in Kalehe prison in South Kivu. © Screengrab of video published on Facebook

This nurse is a member of a human rights association. After receiving threats following the publication of this video online, he asked to remain anonymous. 

While visiting the prison on July 3 as a volunteer for this association, he said he found about 15 inmates in critical condition and completely dehydrated. He gave them some water to drink and arranged for them to be brought to the nearest health centre. 

'The prisoners are not properly taken care of by the state'

After seeing the video, Jean-Chrysostome Kijana, president of the human rights and civil society coalition, Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile in DR Congo (NDSCI), went to Kalehe prison on July 4 with other members of the association. He found the prisoners in the same condition as the day before. Those who had been taken to the health centre were sent back to the prison after being treated. 

When we were there, we found that the situation was truly catastrophic. We found the prison with around 30 inmates inside, including a woman and four children that were around 14 years old. They were all extremely thin, in a state of acute malnutrition due to starvation. There is also a contagious disease that is ravaging them.

As shown in this photo provided by Jean-Chrysostome Kijana, several juvenile detainees are suffering from a skin rash.
As shown in this photo provided by Jean-Chrysostome Kijana, several juvenile detainees are suffering from a skin rash. © Jean-Chrysostome Kijana

Inside the prison, there is no health infrastructure: no pharmacy, no health centre, no nurses, no doctors. The inmates are left to their own devices, despite the state they are in. There are no toilets, they have to relieve themselves in  plastic jugs. They sleep on the cement, there are no mattresses, it's hell. As DR Congo faces a third wave of Covid-19, there are no protection measures. 

Photos of the interior of the prison were provided to the FRANCE 24 Observers team by Jean-Chrysostome Kijana.
Photos of the interior of the prison were provided to the FRANCE 24 Observers team by Jean-Chrysostome Kijana. © Jean-Chrysostome Kijana

It's pretty much the same situation in all our prisons. The prisoners are not properly taken care of by the state: there are no subsidies, prisons are overcrowded. The provinces also allocate some funding to prisons, but the money is often misused. 

Prisons should not be places where you go to die. The prisoners have rights that must be respected. They must be treated well, maybe even learn a trade, since the prison also has the task of resocialising prisoners to more easily reintegrate into the community. 

At the visit to Kalehe, the NDSCI donated 200kg of maize flour to feed the prisoners for several days. The association also alerted the local authorities to the living conditions of the prisoners. 

Contacted by the FRANCE 24 Observers, the Minister of Justice of South Kivu province, Jospin Bitafanwa Mukono, said he had visited Kalehe prison on July 3. He says there were only four sick inmates, and that he ensured that their treatment was taken care of by the provincial government. "The conditions of detention in the province are not very acceptable," he conceded. "Kalehe prison is not in the budget of the central government [Editor's note: unlike six of the 11 prisons in the province]. We have raised the alarm with the central government to ask them to take charge of all the prisons in the province."

In June 2021, the NSDCI launched the Citizen's Observatory of Prisons in DR Congo, to enforce the UN Nelson Mandela Rules to protect the rights of prisoners. The association Avocats Sans Frontières (Lawyers Without Borders) wrote about the issue back in 2015, saying that conditions in prisons in DR Congo "violate prisoners' rights".