Human Rights of African Prisoners

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African countries suffer from a serious lack in civil rights and public freedoms more than industrial countries do. This lacking, by itself, explains the low levels of reform so far attained in the criminal justice system, in general, and prisons, in particular. In many cases, the state authorities recognized formally some of the internationally-recognized fundamental rights and public freedoms via constitutional or statutory law. Some of this recognition appeared in the prison regulations of a few African nations. The authority’s negation of the right to organize trade unions, professional associations, political parties, or non-governmental human rights organizations, nonetheless, violated grossly the human rights of citizens, especially the powerless groups of prisoners, women and juveniles. Added to the urgent need to fulfill the States Parties’ obligation to the United Nations’ humanitarian law and the standard minimum rules for the treatment of offenders, the African penal institutions must be reformed by democratic methods to allow the public at large, as well as policy makers, to implement the best ways possible to reform the criminal justice, crime prevention, and the prison inmates. A full implementation of such programs, however, would be possibly enforceable only within a political and administrative system of rule that would be highly committed to the human rights of citizens, regardless of their penal status, especially the right to life, the civil and political rights, and the other economic, social, and cultural rights.


Addressing issues of human rights in Africa, this important work call for values and practices that are not new to Africa: historically, as Dr. Mahgoub acknowledges, our societies were based in world views and practices that emphasized balance, justice, compassion – pillars of human rights … The Maafa however, was a wrenching and devastating catastrophe, the consequences of which still hold Africa and African peoples in its monstrous grip. In this work, the author points to the consequences of the Maafa (colonialism) for African women, which are reflected in the rise of oppressive patriarchal attitudes and practices. These harmful beliefs and practices restrict women’s access and participation in public and civic life, including education, economic activity, and political office … The author draws our attention to African peoples’ continuing enslavement to moral orders which are heirs of those religions used to justify social philosophies and material practices that pried us apart from ourselves, tore us from the safe moorings and life-giving instructions preserved in our African spiritual philosophies and practices. The cruel experiences of the Maafa have left us with little conscious knowledge of the powerful spiritual energy and wisdom that lie at the core of African civilization … The author urges us to remember Kwame Nkrumah’s admonition that “thought without practice is blind, and practice without thought is empty.” He understands that human rights, in policy and in practice, are central to Africa’ advance, and are a prerequisite to our quest to approach nine. Further works such as this illustrate the urgent need to rescue and breathe new life into African human rights paradigms, paradigms that led the advance of civilization for millennia. These paradigms that have been patiently waiting for us to recognize that the current leaders of the mad dash to “globalization of human rights” have suspicious track records and, when questioned, they come up with “answers that don’t answer, explanations that don’t explain, and conclusions that don’t conclude” (an observation often made by Fred Hampton). Much of the current talk about human rights is based in illusions and mirages. It will be through our own human rights prisms that we will transform African communities into places of strength, vibrancy and wellness. Additionally, this work will help enrich the global market place of culture and ideas. This book is important for its contribution to the scholarly literature and will be practically useful for policy makers and practitioners. – (from the Preface) Mayibuye Monanabela, Nokuzola College, Addis Ababa

“This book is an extraordinary scholarly piece that increasingly informs the reader of contemporary social issues and problems in many of the countries on the Continent of Africa. Implementing both an interdisciplinary approach and a holistic analysis the text is inclusive of Africa in the 1990’s that critically assesses early European domination (slavery) as it evolved into colonialism, and imperialism to the extent that social structures within the various African countries were negatively impacted economically, socially, culturally, and politically to cause current policy to not serve citizens with appropriate legal, civil, and human rights. The aim of the piece is to inform us about critical issues of Women and Governance, Women and Religion, Outside Human Rights and Effective Co-ordination, Escape Mechanisms on Reporting Human Rights’ Abuses, Detention and International Human Rights Norms, The African Prison System: Case Studies, Conditions of Prisons in the Republic of Gambia, Egypt and South Africa, and Crime and Problems of National Development in the Sudan in the discourse of the African context. An essential text for every learned person in general, and specifically across the academic curriculum in areas such as International Studies, Sociology, Women Studies, Africana Studies, Psychology, Economics, Business, Government, and Global Studies. Further use could be on the international leadership level of the power elite with the hope of making accurate policy decisions that impact our global community.” – E. Kelly Sanford, Associate Professor of Sociology, Tennessee State University

“This book is wide-ranging, including an overview of democracy and human rights in Africa in the 1990’s, the position and treatment of women in Africa, and extensive treatment of African prison systems with case studies focusing on the Gambia, Egypt, South Africa and the Sudan… The book’s main contribution to African studies is this focus on prison systems within the context of human rights abuses throughout the continent. In addition, its important analysis of the unequal treatment of women fits well into the existing literature on this topic.” – James Quirin, Professor of History, Fisk University

Table of Contents

1. International Norms, Criminality, and Penal Policies
2. Detention and International Human Rights Norms
3. The African Prison System: Case Studies
4. Conditions of Prisons in the Republic of The Gambia by Mahgoub E. Mahmoud & Adama Mboge
5. Conditions of Prisons in the Arab Republic of Egypt by Amir Salim
6. Conditions of Prisons in the Republic of South Africa by lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), Pretoria
7. Crime and Problems of National Development in The Sudan
Name Index
Subject Index

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