GENEVA – The U.N. human rights office is condemning excessive use of force by security guards that killed 22 inmates and injured eight others during a mass escape at a Madagascar jail nearly a week ago.
Security forces reportedly opened fire as hundreds of men were trying to escape Sunday from Madagascar’s Farangana prison in the southeast of the country. The attempt largely failed. Out of 380 inmates, only 25 were still on the run Saturday.
The U.N. human rights office on Friday described the squalid prison conditions as appalling and a hotbed for the spread of COVID-19.
Agency spokesman Rupert Colville said it was the seventh attempted prison escape in the country since the coronavirus pandemic began.
He said prisoners were living in fear of being stricken with this deadly disease.
“As with many other jails, the conditions at Farafangana are deeply troubling. The prison is overcrowded, conditions are generally unhygienic, the food is poor, and inmates lack proper access to health care. Our office has previously engaged with the authorities to express concerns about conditions in the country’s jails, and the resultant dangers of overcrowding during the pandemic.”
Relief of overcrowding
Colville said in the early stages of the pandemic, U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet appealed to all countries to reduce overcrowded prison populations. He said she specifically urged the release of people at risk, including pregnant women, the disabled, the elderly and minors.
Colville told VOA that Malagasy authorities were aware of the problematic conditions in their prison system.
“The president of Madagascar had embarked on trying to make changes to the prison system, with the main objective of decongesting the prisons. But clearly, more remains to be done,” he said. “And the fact that there have been seven such escapes, and apparently that it happened at the weekend is a factor, because there is less security in the prison on the weekend.”
The U.N. human rights office called on the government to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the killings and injuries that occurred during the prison escape. It reminded authorities that the use of force must comply with the principles of legality and necessity and that it must be proportional and nondiscriminatory.