Uganda’s Nightmare Behind Bars

A Human Rights Watch official reveals the harsh realities of Ugandan prisons.

Posted: 07/14/2011 05:11 PM EDT
Filed Under Uganda

Uganda’s Nightmare Behind Bars

The prisons in East Africa’s Uganda are alarmingly overcrowded and lacking food, water and adequate healthcare making the spread of tuberculosis and HIV rampant, according to a report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW).


In interviews with HRW, prisoners said they were crammed into cells with little access to fresh air sometimes all day with sick cell mates. Lack of resources also lead some to trade sex for food. These two factors are likely behind the fact that the prison HIV and TB infection rates are double in prison than outside. There are 223 prisons in Uganda and only one provides comprehensive HIV and TB treatment, the report says.


It’s particularly bad at Muinaina Farm Prison. A group of prisoners wrote a note to HRW desperately pleading, “Help us, we’ll die.” At that facility, there are many sick prisoners but very few health care options, though sick prisoners keep being sent there.


Making matters worse, prisoners across the country (many of whom are sick) are forced to work in the fields to earn money for the system or prison staff.


And complaining or underperformance can have brutal consequences.


“[Prison warders] hit me so hard, I was crying blood,” one prisoner told HRW.


In addition more than 50 percent of those behind bars haven’t even had their day in court. Some have been locked up for more than five years without having their cases heard.


In his report, Joseph Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights Division at HRW, issued a call for fairness.


“Lock up those found guilty by courts, and if they are sentenced and found fit, make them work for reasonable hours under reasonable conditions,” he wrote. “But for Uganda to send people with HIV or TB, the elderly and pregnant women and people who have not been convicted of any crime to work to fatten the wallets of wardens or until they collapse in the fields, fosters injustice within the very heart of the nation's justice system.”


His report was published in Ugandan newspaper The Independent.



(Photo: David Silverman/Getty Images)