Zimbabwe yesterday commemorated World Humanitarian Day amid reports the country’s prisoners were surviving on measly meals due to inadequate government funding.
Justice and Legal Affairs deputy minister Obert Gutu told our correspondent the food shortages at the 42 prisons had reached alarming levels, adding there could soon be an outbreak of malnutrition-related diseases such as pellagra and scurvy.
“The conditions at our prisons are once again deteriorating and we have a serious shortage of food. I want to call upon Treasury to ensure our prisoners are adequately funded in as far as the food situation is concerned because right now prisons need 10 times more than the $35 000 per month they get from the fiscus, yet we have 15 000 prisoners in 42 prisons nationwide,” Gutu said.
“They are just getting porridge without sugar or salt in the morning, a bit of sadza and cabbage without cooking oil and we are saying as government we have signed numerous human rights protocols and people judge the state of our economy by the situation in our prisons — and there is no use signing protocols that we cannot implement.”
He said Statutory Instrument 149 of 2011 compelled government to provide a proper diet to prisoners.
“If we are going to have our prisons operate like death chambers, there can be an outbreak of diseases like pellagra and scurvy and this should be a wake-up call to government to seriously look at the state of our prisons. A few years ago (2007 to 2008), some prisoners lost their sight because of lack of a balanced diet and we do not want that to repeat,” he said.
Gutu added: “Prisoners do not even have adequate uniforms and medicines, and preference is given to those prisoners who are supposed to appear in court to put on decent uniforms, while those who remain behind will be in tattered dirty clothes.”
At the height of the country’s economic meltdown about three years ago, Chikurubi Maximum Prison reportedly recorded an average of 10 hunger-related deaths daily before the intervention of international humanitarian organisations.
The deputy minister also bemoaned government’s failure to ratify the International Criminal Court protocol to deal with crimes against humanity.
“I urge the Zimbabwe government to immediately ratify the International Criminal Court Treaty if we have nothing to fear or hide,” he said - Newsday.