Proposal 4: Abolition of Torture and Death Penalty - FIACAT

Peace Award 2021: Shortlist Award of the Donors

In many African states, an increasing number of people are imprisoned without justification. It is not uncommon for them to be detained for months or even years without a verdict, and they are often not even registered by name. They are in danger of being forgotten by the judicial system.

Even minor offences or political involvement can cause people to be struck by this despotism. Minors are often imprisoned, and their families are powerless to help them. If the father of a family is detained for a long period of time, then the family faces financial ruin. Mothers are separated from their children or have to take care of small children in prison.

The consequence of this practice are prisons that are hopelessly overfilled. The prisoners in the cells can only sleep when they take it in turns to lie on the floor. The hygiene conditions are catastrophic and the food supply is insufficient. More often than not, they depend very much on the means their families have to support them. Torture at the hands of the prison staff as well as violence occur on a daily basis.

FIACAT (International Federation of ACAT) takes measures against the unsustainable conditions in the prisons. It is an association comprising 30 national ACAT organisations from four continents. ACAT stands for „Actions by Christians for the Abolition of Torture“ and is an interdenominational human rights organisation. Two women from the Reformed Church of France began this work in 1974 after hearing a report the previous year by an Italian priest about the atrocities of the Vietnam War. The declared aim of the NGO with its headquarters in Paris is the abolition of torture and the death penalty.

Members regularly visit the prisons to identify prisoners, and the regional ACAT groups in six African states have succeeded in securing the provisional or final release of almost 2500 detainees. 1293 cases were submitted to the responsible courts and 1798 files revised by lawyers. In addition, employees from the judiciary, prison administration and civil society are trained in international and regional standards as a means of preventing torture.

The work carried out by ACAT is greeted with great interest and approval by the African media. FIACAT draws attention to the shortcomings in remand centres and collects money to secure its work on site. In this way, they were able to secure the humane treatment of a large number of prisoners as well as fair trials and release from prison. Moreover, democracy has been revitalized through dialogue between the ACATs, further civil-society agents and the state authorities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the situation for prisoners and put them in great danger. Courts have only been able to work slowly due to the pandemic. The ACATs have, however, emphatically drawn attention to the danger that the virus can easily spread in prisons on account of overcrowding.  A large number of prisoners were released.

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