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Major donation to boost COVID-19 response in Uganda's prisons 

Kampala, 30 June 2020 - The Uganda Prisons Service has today received video conferencing, computer and sports equipment as part of a significant consignment of goods to boost the COVID-19 response in the country’s prisons.

The donation is through the Joint Global Initiative on The Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and The Prevention of Radicalization to Violence in Prisons, a partnership of the European Union, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT) being implemented in partnership with the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (UNCTED).

The four-year (2018-2021) joint initiative is co-funded by the European Union, UNCCT and The Netherlands, and implemented in partnership with institutions in focal countries, including Uganda.

The donated goods comprise seven video conferencing systems; 10 desktop computers; two laptops; two printers; fuel to transport 4,000 prisoners; 40 high-dependence hospital beds with mattresses; 80 bedsheets; 80 blankets; 16 (5,000 litre) water tanks; 3,000 mattresses; 3,000 blankets; 150 cartons of soap; 32 handsets; pre-purchased airtime for mobile phones; a range of sports equipment (including footballs, volleyballs), games (such as Scrabble) and 3,000 UNODC posters on COVID-19.

The sizable consignment was received by the Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr. Johnson Omuhunde Rwashote Byabashaija, during a ceremony at Luzira Prison in Kampala that various guests participated in virtually, including representative of The Netherlands, UN partners in Uganda and members of the Justice Law and Order Development Partners group in Uganda, and UNODC colleagues from headquarters in Vienna and the Regional Office in Nairobi.

“We hope this equipment will go a long way in terms of assisting the Uganda Prisons Service to meet the unique, ongoing challenges presented by the global pandemic. Primarily, these goods are intended to fill gaps in essential equipment needed to connect prisons to virtual court hearings to ensure that prisoners have continued access to justice, and to enable appropriate sanitation standards to be maintained in the country’s 16 isolation prisons,” UNODC’s Deputy Regional Representative for Eastern Africa, Ms, Sylvie Bertrand, said in her remarks from Nairobi.

UNODC applauded the recent Presidential pardon of 833 Ugandan prisoners and reiterated its appreciation of the efforts made by the Uganda Prisons Service in responding to the pandemic.

“Together with the EU and our UN partners, we’re privileged to provide this practical support to the Uganda Prisons Service at this critical time to contribute to reducing prison overcrowding, for example by covering fuel costs for the transfer of released prisoners and facilitating their reintegration by the Uganda Prisons Service. These goods will also support the five newly-established COVID-19 treatment centres in prisons,” Ms. Bertrand said.

Importantly, the consignment is also intended to enhance prisoners’ communication with the outside world from the isolation prisons, to provide recreation options and further develop prisoners’ skills through sport, and to support continued capacity building of staff in the Uganda Prisons Service.

Commissioner General Byabashaija explained how the donation had come at a time when his Service needed it most.

“It’s going to strengthen our fight against COVID-19. Prisoners are going to be able to have access through video conferencing, they will be able to contact their families and play indoor games to reduce on mental stress. I therefore want to thank the EU, Netherlands and Office of Counter Terrorism for the generous funding which has resulted into this procurement. I thank the UNODC for its continued partnership with UPS which has greatly benefited UPS,” the Commissioner General said. 

A representative of the Delegation of the European Union to Uganda, Mr. Paul Otim, highlighted the EU’s commitment to enhancing prison reform as an enabler for addressing violent extremism in prisons, good prison management and necessary reforms that constitute a fundamental basis for the effective management of all prisoners, including violent extremist prisoners.

“The EU is appreciative that within the frame of the global initiative, the partners can support the Uganda Prisons Service in responding to COVID 19 since managing violent extremist prisoners has become an added challenge; requiring a multi-faceted approach towards criminal justice and prison reform especially in the context of the pandemic. “We thank UNODC for organizing the procurement of the items and underline the EU’s commitment to its long-term partnership with Uganda in the field of promoting the rule of law and delivering justice,” Mr. Otim said. 

The COVID 19 pandemic has reinforced the fact that prisons in many countries have been neglected for a long time and are operating beyond their official capacity.

Poor prison conditions and inadequate resourcing make it difficult for many prison systems to adequately respond to health pandemics and the use of excessive imprisonment as opposed to non-custodial measures, continues to exacerbate the problem.

UNODC’s position paper on COVID-19 preparedness and responses in prisons includes a focus not only on strengthening infection prevention and control measures in prisons, but also an urgent call for an enhanced resort to non-custodial measures.

About the Joint Global Initiative on The Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and The Prevention of Radicalization to Violence in Prisons: Alongside Kazakhstan and Tunisia, Uganda is one of three beneficiary countries of this joint initiative which strives to strengthen the management of violent extremist prisoners, prevent prisoners’ radicalization to violence in the course of their imprisonment, in full compliance with international standards and norms.

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