Togo: ‘Camp courts’ seek to counter prison overcrowding

Friday, May 13, 2022

A series of public court hearings were held in Togo’s capital, Lomé, on 7-8 April 2022 as part of a strategy to address widespread prison overcrowding in the country.

The special correctional hearings, known as ‘camp courts’, were organised for prisoners held in pre-trial detention in Lomé’s civil prison. A total of 42 cases were heard over the two days, involving persons allegedly guilty of minor offenses.

The camp courts were organised by the Togo National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and the APT, in collaboration with the Bar Association and with the support of the Ministry of Justice and Legislation.

Togo has one of the highest rates of pre-trial detention in the world, with pre-trial prisoners making up 63% of the overall prison population. This has led to severe overcrowding, with most of the country’s prisons operating at more than 180% of their capacity.

People waiting at court room
Ben Buckland

In the report of its visit to Togo in 2014, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) noted that "such a degree of overcrowding amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, even a form of torture".

“We know that prison overcrowding has a negative impact on detention conditions, on access to health care and on other fundamental rights,” said Luce Ahouangnimon, APT Senior Adviser for Detention and Mobilisation. “It also disproportionately impacts on people in vulnerable situations, including women.”

“Holding the camp courts and bringing the prisoners closer to the courtroom is one way to address excessive pre-trial detention, reduce prison overcrowding and implement recommendations made by the SPT”, Ms Ahouangnimon added.

After the two days of hearings, 18 cases were finalised, with 16 prisoners receiving custodial sentences, most of which were suspended. Two prisoners were released. The remaining 24 cases were referred for hearing on 14 and 21 April 2022.

Building on the positive progress from these public hearings, the CNDH issued a statement on theAfrican Day of Preventive Detention (25 April) expressing their goal for Togo to reach less than 50% of preventive detainees in prisons by the year 2030.

The camp courts are part of the second phase of an APT project that aims to reduce the overuse of pre-trial detention in Togo. Thefirst phase, implemented in November 2021, focused on strengthening the capacity of those working within the criminal justice system, including the National Preventive Mechanism.

Both phases of this project have been supported by the Special Fund of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Togo Court
Ben Buckland

Staff members