Following his mission to Equatorial Guinea from 9 – 18 November 2008, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, issued the following statement:
“I would first like to stress that I appreciate that the Government of Equatorial Guinea has invited me to undertake a fact-finding mission to the country. I interpret this invitation as a sign of the willingness of the Government of Equatorial Guinea to open itself up to independent and objective scrutiny of the situation of torture and ill-treatment – practices to which no country in the world is immune.
I am grateful to governmental and non-governmental interlocutors in Malabo and Bata. I visited prisons as well as police and gendarmerie stations in a number of different towns on Bioko Island and in Rio Muni. A full list of meetings held and locations visited is appended to this statement.
Torture and ill-treatment generally take place behind closed doors. Therefore, in order to detect it, it is essential that I am granted unrestricted access to all places of detention without prior announcement and that I am able to carry out confidential interviews with detainees. Whereas I would like to thank the Government for the cooperation extended to me prior to and during the visit, I regret that in violation of my Terms of Reference, I did not have access to any places of detention under the authority of the military, and that, in a number of instances, access to other facilities was delayed or denied.
On the basis of an analysis of the legal system, my visits to detention facilities, interviews with detainees, the support of forensic medical evidence, and meetings with Government officials, lawyers and representatives of civil society, I would like to share the following observations:
Acts of Torture and Ill-treatment
(a) Police/Gendarmerie custody
I have found that torture is systematically used by the police forces against persons who refuse to “cooperate” – persons suspected of political crimes as well as suspects of common crimes, in particular at the Central Police Stations in Bata and Malabo. The gendarmerie appears to practice torture to a lesser extent. I was unable to verify allegations against the military because I was denied access to military detention facilities.
Types of abuse reported to me, and corroborated by expert medical analysis and evidence found in the respective police stations, include: beatings on various parts of the body, but often on the soles of the feet and/or the buttocks with police batons, solid “rubberized” 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, including the so-called “Ethiopian style” for prolonged periods. In these positions the victims are swung, beaten, or heavy devices such as car batteries are placed on top of their backs. Furthermore, they were sometimes blindfolded or forced to inhale candle smoke. In most instances, the purpose of the torture is to extract confessions or information; sometimes it is intended as punishment, intimidation or for the extortion of money.
I am concerned about possible reprisals against detainees who provided testimony to us, in particular at the Central Police Stations in Malabo and Bata. The fact that I was denied access to both these facilities, when I went for follow-up visits, reinforces these concerns.
I received consistent allegations that corporal punishment continues to be routinely applied by prison guards in front of other prisoners in Bata and Black Beach prisons. On the other hand, I am encouraged to learn that corporal punishment seems not to have been applied any more for the last several months at Evinayong Prison.
Conditions of detention
a) Police/Gendarmerie Custody
With the exception of the newly built Bata Central Police Station, police and gendarmerie holding cells are generally in a dilapidated physical state. The cells are dirty, humid and lack any sanitary or sleeping facilities. As a rule, food is only provided by the detainees’ family or by fellow prisoners, 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. I am also very concerned about allegations of violence among detainees, which appears to be frequently ignored or even tolerated by the authorities.
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.
Overall, the prisons were fairly spacious, although in one wing of the Black Beach Prison and in Bata Prison I received reports about bed-sharing during peak times. One of the main concerns in Black Beach Prison was that family visits appear to be forbidden (except for a small number of inmates). I wish to stress that contact with the outside world is a major component of successful rehabilitation and reintegration of detainees as required by article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In all prisons I received numerous complaints about the food, which is insufficient if it cannot be supplemented by family members. Although in the Black Beach Prison medical doctors are on duty and can treat minor problems, access to medical treatment and medicine is severely restricted, and in the Bata and Evinayong prisons such access is completely unavailable. Serious cases generally remain untreated if the detainee cannot afford to pay for it.
A major problem is the fact that some persons suspected of political crimes n Black Beach Prison have been held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of up to four years, without even being allowed the one hour of exercise per day required by the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. 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. In addition, I received allegations from various sources about persons held in incommunicado and secret detention that I could not verify because of lack of access.
c) Groups Made Vulnerable
I am very concerned that immigrants detained pending deportation are frequently held in police detention in poor conditions for very long periods, without access to food and/or water since they have no family members nearby to help them. Their ability to contact the consular representations of their countries was limited. I have also received credible reports that immigrants run an increased risk of being subjected to discriminatory practices and sometimes even physical abuse by other detainees with the tacit approval of the police.
In prisons as well as in police and gendarmerie custody women and children are not separated from male adults and are therefore extremely vulnerable to sexual violence and other forms of abuse. This is a clear violation of international norms.
Non-functioning of the administration of justice
The context that allows torture to continue unabatedly is characterized by the non-functioning of the administration of justice and, therefore, the absence of the rule of law. Factors contributing to this situation are:
· The absence of an independent judiciary;
· Endemic corruption;
· Arbitrary detention is common and habeas corpus is completely ineffective in practice;
· There is no clear distinction between the different branches of the law enforcement system, which is militarized and effectively controls the judiciary;
· “Evidence” obtained under torture is commonly used as the basis for convictions, which in turn means that there is considerable pressure on the police to extract confessions;
· In spite of Law 6/2006 on the Prevention and Punishment of Torture, impunity is quasi total. With the exception of one female police officer who has been sentenced to seven months of imprisonment for a case of torture with lethal consequences, no alleged perpetrator of torture has been brought to justice. Instead, even officers who are widely known to regularly use torture continue their careers in the police/gendarmerie forces.
· I was shocked to discover that, in many cases, victims of torture enter a vicious circle of re-victimization. Contrary to what is required by international standards, they experience a total lack of justice, which, combined with the physical and psychological consequences of ill-treatment and the absence of any rehabilitation or compensation mechanism, causes ongoing suffering that might amount to inhuman treatment.
In order for Equatorial Guinea to comply with its obligations under both international human rights law and its Constitution, 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 is necessary to effectively combat torture.
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. In my assessment, unless an overall plan establishing rule of law is adopted and implemented, limited projects make little sense.
I will prepare a comprehensive written report detailing my findings and recommendations, which will be submitted to the Government of Equatorial Guinea for comments before being presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Appendix: Meetings and Locations Visited
The Special Rapporteur held meetings with:
· H.E. Dr. Salomon Nguema Owono, First Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights;
· H.E. Pastor Micha Ondo Bile Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Francophone Affairs:
· H.E. Maj. Gen. Manuel Nguema Mba, Minister of National Security;
· H.E. Mr. Don Salvador Ondo Nkumu, Minister of Justice, Cults and Penitentiary Institutions;
· H.E. Mr. Don Clemente Engonga Nguema Onguene, Minister of Internal Affairs and Local Corporations;
· H.E. Eulalia Envo Bela,.Minister for Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women;
· H. E.Major General Antonio Obama Ndong, Vice Minister of National Defense;
· H.E. José Olo Obono, Prosecutor General of the Republique of Ecuatorial Guinea
· H. E. Silverio Bacá Mbá, Governor of the Province of Bata - Litoral
Outside of Government, the Special Rapporteur met with the Chairman of the Appeals Court of Malabo and the National Human Rights Commission. He also had discussions with civil society representatives. In addition, the Special Rapporteur held meetings with the United Nations country team and the diplomatic community.
(b) Locations visited
· Central Police Station, Malabo (twice: second time access to detainees denied)
· Black Beach Prison, Malabo
· Luba Municipal Police Station and
· Luba Municipal Gendarmerie Post
· Baney District Police Station
· Rebola Municipal Police Station
· Mané Ela Military Camp in Malabo (access denied)
· Elan Nguema Municipal Police Station, Malabo
· Niefang District Police Station
· Niefang District Gendarmerie Post
· Central Police Station Bata (twice: second time access to detainees denied)
· Central Gendarmerie, Bata
· Mendoc-Asi Police Station, Bata
· Bata Prison
· Evinayong Province Police Station
· Evinayong Province Gendarmerie Post
· Evinayong Prison
· Ngolo Municipal Police Station, Bata
· Cogo District Police Station – access to detention facilities denied;
· Cogo District Gendarmerie Post – access to detention facilities denied;
· Cogo Military Camp (access denied)
· Mbini District Police Station
Mr. Nowak was appointed Special Rapporteur on 1 December 2004 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. The Commission first decided to appoint a special rapporteur to examine questions relevant to torture in 1985. The mandate, since renewed under the UN Human Rights Council, covers all countries, whether or not they have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Mr. Nowak has previously served as member of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; the UN expert on missing persons in the former Yugoslavia; the UN expert on legal questions on enforced disappearances; and as a judge at the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the University of Vienna, and Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.
For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit the website: http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm
See also: [French and Spanish versions]