Tunisia: improving prison conditions

29-08-2012 Operational Update

Since the Ben Ali regime fell in January 2011, the ICRC has been working with the Tunisian prison authorities to improve conditions of detention.

Prison mutinies erupted during the revolution in Tunisia. They often resulted in fires that made more obvious than ever the need for renovation work in some of the facilities. "We set to work with the prison authorities right away to improve conditions for the detainees." said Mulan Giovannini Segalini, the ICRC's detainee-welfare delegate in Tunis.

This year, in addition to visits to a number of Tunisian prisons, ICRC staff have gone to police-detention facilities, migrant-reception centres and facilities housing minors to assess conditions and treatment. After each visit, delegates share their conclusions and recommendations with the authorities concerned.

Fire-prevention project at Borj El Amri prison

The ICRC has recently completed work to install fire-detection and fire-fighting systems in Borj El Amri prison near Tunis. "It's one of the largest prisons in the country," said Giovanni. "And conditions there right after the riots were particularly poor."

The fire-prevention equipment consists of sprinklers that open automatically should a fire break out. A course will be organized by the ICRC and the civil defence authority to instruct the prison staff in their maintenance.

This is the ICRC's second project at Borj El Amri in less than a year. Work began in 2011 to repair 1,100 m2 of floor space that had been damaged by the fires of earlier that year. A number of cells and common-rooms underwent work ranging from minor improvements (painting, woodwork, electrical work, etc.) to the full-scale relaying of floors.

Borj El Amri prison was selected for this pilot project after the ICRC had carried out an assessment of all detention facilities in Tunisia at the request of the justice ministry.

Similar fire-prevention equipment is also to be installed at Sers prison in the north of the country. In addition, upgrade work is scheduled at Harboub prison (in the south), at Messaadine prison, and at the Sidi El Hani rehabilitation centre for minors.

Health in prison

After the revolution, the ICRC benefited from its frank and constructive dialogue with the authorities to assess the health-care system in six prisons considered representative. The organization also visited the hospitals to which sick detainees are sent. "We're planning to run health-support projects in three prisons," Giovannini said. "And meetings will be held with the justice and health ministries to discuss other ways in which this assessment can be followed up."

In July, the ICRC ran a four-day seminar in Tunis on health in detention. It was attended by over 100 people – prison governors and deputy governors, doctors and psychologists. The emphasis was on the ICRC's approach to public health in places of detention, the role of psychologists, and cooperation between prison health staff and prison-security personnel.

When visiting detainees, delegates devote special attention to minors, women and foreign nationals. The visits to foreign detainees have provided an opportunity for them to get in touch with their families at home.

For further information, please contact:
Faten M'Tir, ICRC Tunis, tel: +216 25 336 200