Friday, 25 July 2014

Human Rights Advocates Have Positively Changed My Life: Inmate Opio Boniface Testifies.

Convicted on 10th December 2013, Opio Boniface commonly referred to as “Bonny” by his fellow inmates at Kole Uganda Government Prison; reveals that the community based human rights advocates (CBHRAs) under African Prisons Project (APP) have transformed his life since he was admitted at the prison. APP is an IDF grantee implementing the project “Promotion of the rights of access to justice and healthcare of prisoners in Oyam and Apac districts”. The project that aims at
A photo of Bonny at Kole Prison
improving the prison environment to one that respects and promotes prisoners’ rights uses
CBHRAs and Village Health Teams (VHTs) as focal persons. 
The focal persons are both community based persons and prison officers, trained and charged with sensitizing and educating prisoners on their rights and the justice system. They also engage with and interest the prison authorities to observe and promote the same.                          

 Serving a sentence of thirty six (36) months for theft and burglary charges, Bonny does not regret his time at Kole prison. He is rather grateful for the learning about his rights and the justice system that he has gotten from the CBHRAs, and the support/guidance he has been able to extend to his fellow in-mates in return. His only wish is if he had met the CBHRAs before his conviction maybe then they would have helped him to apply for bail and bring his case to a better conclusion. 

I wish i had met the CBHRAs when i was still on remand, they could have helped me to apply for bail because I did not understand what was required of me at that time, nevertheless i am still a happy man because they have given me courage and hope during my time in prison. The CBHRAs have taught me a lot about justice, the Justice System and Human rights most especially the rights of prisoners. I am certain this information will still be useful to me even after i leave this place in December 2014; but in the meantime, i am using the information and knowledge acquired from the sessions and I.E.C materials to advise my fellow inmates who are still on remand and yet have no idea of Court proceedings on what they can do to secure bail” Bonny notes.

Bonny further reveals that the I.E.C materials have completely changed his thinking, enhanced his knowledge and confidence to handle life’s situations. It is this same confidence and voluntary guidance that have earned him a new title as head of prison – usually referred to as ‘Mukulu Boma.  Some of the reading materials have completely changed my life; I now have no fear because I am an informed man. My fellow in-mates saw this in me and entrusted me to head them; being Mukulu Boma is a big task but i am not afraid. I just hope i can use my leadership position to sensitize and help more inmates and also work with the authorities to improve the living environment, and, welfare of the in-mates and report to authorities cases of rights violations amongst inmates” Bonny remarks.

Opio Boniface is grateful to African Prisons Project for training the prison staff as CBHRAs and to the CBHRAs for their support. His wish is that this initiative can be implemented in other prisons to benefit other in-mates all over Uganda. Available project reports indicate that this project is steadily causing improvement in the welfare of inmates and facilitating increased access to justice, promotion and observance of prisoner rights in Oyam and Apac districts. 

Apparently some prison officers are considering lobbying the line Ministry to replicate this best practice in other government prisons.