To protect the prisoners

The prison chief in western Midas is threatening to release dangerous prisoners unless the UN comes to his assistance. The prisoners are suffering from malnutrition, water supplies have run out and TBC and cholera have broken out. The UN is dragging its feet. Meetings need to be held and the legal aspects clarified.

Jacques Mwepu, Inspector of Prisons.
Jacques Mwepu, Inspector of Prisons.
Jacques Mwepu, Inspector of Prisons. Photo: Johan Ardefors/FBB
Jacques Mwepu, Inspector of Prisons. Photo: Johan Ardefors/FBB

“The scenario is a very credible one. The chaos in trying to coordinate actions before something actually happens is realistic. Because the UN has to be sure that the task is covered by its mandate, it all takes time,” says Jacques Mwepu, Inspector of Prisons.

In the Bogaland scenario he is ‘double hatted’. In the game itself he is the UN’s chief prison adviser but he also acts vis-à-vis the trainees in the role of the local prison chief, often the ‘bad guy’ as in the case above. He himself already has experience in the role of UN prison adviser from the Ivory Coast mission in 2005 when he worked with Pierre Schori, Kofi Annan’s special emissary in the area.

In his second role, with the trainees, he has had to mobilise the UN when a mother rang Save the Children after her 12-year old son had been abducted and taken to the prison. Being under age, her son is entitled to be treated in a particular way. As the UN’s prison adviser in the area, he must check whether the information is correct and persuade the prison chief to comply with the UN’s minimum requirements for under age prisoners.

Can you help those interned in prison camps?

“It depends on the mandate we have been given. The various roles are defined in it.”

Jacques has himself been in this situation before. The individuals he was searching for were not imprisoned where he had expected, but he was told there that they were being held at a hidden location.

“My task as prison adviser is to visit those prison sites that have been legally constructed. Prison camps and other places of imprisonment not legally defined are outside my jurisdiction.”

Contact is made instead with representatives of the human rights organisations such as the Red Cross. They have a greater opportunity to gain entry to such places. He then reports back to the UN’s head office which will redirect the matter to the appropriate unit.

The international system would not want to mix the various functions in an attempt to be effective.

“Prison advisers are considered to be experts who are present in the country to oversee the prisons but also to act as mentors. We are there to help our colleagues in the country to do a good job. Our intention is not to make trouble for them in but rather to help them observe the relevant conventions, for example with regard to food for the prisoners, their daily exercise and their general treatment. In order to win the confidence of the prison chiefs, we  have to convince them that the prison advisers are not there to report them.”

Linda Edman’s job is preparing prison service personnel for service abroad.

“My main concern regarding my people’s participation in the exercise as trainees is that they should learn to work with the military, and also with the civil actors, while at the same time those in the military should gain a better awareness of the role of the prison service and the need to make use of its personnel in the course of operations.”