Rwanda’s Gitarama prison can lay claim to the dubious honour of being the filthiest, most overcrowded and most brutal jails on Earth, even though a former governor admits it’s ‘possible’ that some of its inmates are innocent.
Gitarama Prison is considered to be one of the most hellish places on Earth.
The brutal jail on the outskirts of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, was built in 1960 as housing for British workers. It was later converted into a jail designed to hold around 400 prisoners.
It currently holds over 7,000, and at its peak after the horrifying Rwandan genocide of the mid-1990s, was estimated to hold closer to 50,000 inmates.
Men found a place to sit or stand wherever they could, some even slept in the open latrines, soaked in human sewage.
Lt-Col Charles Kayonga, commander of Gitarama at the time, admitted: “It’s possible some are innocent.
”I’m not saying our methods were always thorough. But the vast majority of these people are killers.”
Even today Gitarama is a an incredibly brutal environment. With only a tiny amount of basic food supplied to prisoners each day, and overcrowding leading to frequent fights, it’s believed that some inmates have resorted to eating the bodies of the dead in order to survive.
Food isn’t the only problem. With so many men crowded together in unsanitary conditions disease is rife.
Brigitte Troyon of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which provides medical assistance to Rwanda’s prisons, said: “Half a dozen people are dying in Gitarama every day. If an epidemic breaks out there’s no knowing how many could die.”
The inmates frequently need medical help. Among the frequent referrals to a nearby hospital 38% are suffering from the after-effects of beatings – including broken bones and bite marks – while another 41% are found to have from rotting feet from standing barefoot on the filthy, faeces-strewn ground.
Many of the prisoners have developed gangrene in their feet, and it’s common for toes to rot until they fall off altogether.
More than 1,000 men are reported to have died in Gitarama in 1995 alone. Even today, the stink of faeces and rotting flesh can be detected up to a mile away.
“The conditions here are completely inhumane,” says Troyon. “It’s urgent that they are improved.”
Former Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Jeremy Hamley, revealed: “The International Committee of the Red Cross believes that just over 2,000 people have died in 13 Rwandan prisons in the last year, most through health problems caused by overcrowding. Many of these were in Gitarama.”
Rwanda has had dozens of humans rights violations flagged by human rights organisations, such as forced disappearances and torture, which is one of the reasons why the UK government’s policy to deport asylum seekers there for processing is so controversial.