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Somalia scores very low for most humanitarian indicators, suffering from poor governance, protracted internal conflict, underdevelopment, financial decline, poverty, social and gender discrimination, and environmental dilapidation. Despite civil war and famine raising its death rate, Somalia’s high birth rate and a large percentage of people of reproductive age maintain rapid population growth, with each generation being larger than the preceding one. More than 60% of Somalia’s population is younger than 25, and the fertility rate is among the world’s highest at almost 6 children per woman – a rate that has lessened a little since the 1970s. The crime rate in Somalia is moderate for small offences like being robbed or mugged but high for menacing and violent offences such as assault and armed robbery.
More than 10.2 million men, women and children are in prison globally, and around a third are awaiting trial. The revised UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) were adopted unanimously in December 2015 by the UN General Assembly and set out the minimum standards for good prison management, including to ensure the rights of prisoners are respected. They are known as the Nelson Mandela Rules to honour the late President of South Africa who spent 27 years in prison and advocated for the rights of prisoners.
Unfortunately, in many countries, these rules aren’t followed. Prisoners needs are rarely treated. The health risks in prisons are also unacceptable. MRSA, a bacterial infection whose strains are often resistant to antibiotics, now runs through maximum security prisons. And then there is solitary confinement. It is hard to tell exactly how many prisoners are in solitary each year in the United States. Reports from those who have been held in solitary make clear how inhumane the punishment is. Even the most optimistic lose hope. Prisoners often have no books or reading the material. Visits from lawyers and family members, as well as phone calls, are severely restricted, leaving prisoners feeling totally isolated from everything and everyone.
The death this year of Jerome Murdough at Rikers is such a case. The 56-year-old homeless ex-Marine suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. When he was arrested on a misdemeanour charge, he could not make the $2,500 bail, and so was sent to Rikers, where he was confined in an isolation cell. Although it was February, the cell was extremely hot. He was found dead in his cell, and an autopsy released this month by New York’s medical examiner found that he had died of hyperthermia, with a body temperature of 103 degrees at the time of his death.
Conditions in most prisons in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, including those administered by Al Shabaab, are harsh with reports of poor levels of sanitation, overcrowding and disease; inadequate medical facilities; extensive use of lengthy pretrial detention and the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. The number of prisoners and detainees throughout the country, including juvenile and female prisoners, remained unknown. Harsh conditions in prisons and detention centres throughout the country included overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lack of health care. Inadequate food, water, ventilation, and lighting continued to be persistent problems. Tuberculosis and pneumonia were reportedly widespread. Prisoners relied on their families and clans, which often paid the costs associated with detention. In many areas, prisoners depended on family members and relief agencies for food.
A UN prison assessment found, as of July 2012, the Mogadishu Central Prison population included 950 individuals, of whom 14 were women and 39 were juveniles. The UN confirmed the separation of women and men but noted separation of adults and juveniles was not consistent. The UN also concluded prisoners’ living conditions in the Mogadishu Central Prison fell short of meeting minimum international and national standards. For example, authorities held 120 inmates in cells designed for a maximum of 50 persons. But compared to the 1900s, there have a lot of changes. The ICRC has been trying their best to make improve the living standards of Somalian prisons. Prison visits are a core part of ICRC’s humanitarian role in the world.
The aim of this humanitarian activity is to ensure that persons deprived of their freedom are treated humanely and with dignity. The first-ever detention visits by the ICRC occurred during World War I, and decades later its delegates visited Nelson Mandela when the South African icon was behind bars. The organization currently visits 500,000 detainees a year in more than 90 countries and territories. The ICRC has been teaching inmates new job skills in the prison in Bossasso – in the northern Somalia region of Puntland – since 2013. Such ICRC vocational training programmes are fundamental to the well-being, rehabilitation and social reintegration of detainees.
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