Promoting human rights in Côte d’Ivoire
Bondoukou, 10 December 2008: A quarter of the inmates at Bondoukou prison are still awaiting trial. Some have been there for years. A UNV volunteer is helping to ensure that their human rights are recognized.
Italian national Eugenio Sartoretto is one of ten UNV volunteer Human Rights Officers working with the United Nations Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI). Based with the ONUCI team in the north-east of the country, he applies his background in law and human rights to liaise with communities, institutions and local authorities.
The UNV volunteer's role with ONUCI consists of monitoring human rights violations, and struggling against impunity. He is also collecting data on all prisoners in Bondoukou who have been detained without trial for an extended period of time. This is a first step to get their rights restored through the joint effort of UNOCI and judicial authorities.
Mr. Sartoretto explains that conditions in Côte d'Ivoire's prisons are far below standards, and the recent civil conflict had a significant impact on penitentiary system functioning. "Many prisoners don't have access to information on the follow-up of their own appeals, nor are they receiving regular medical care," he says. "We assist the prosecutor to ensure due process and remedies and access the relevant information. Basically, my unit is trying to facilitate the judicial process."
Along with his colleagues, he is currently assisting three prisoners, one an elderly woman, who were convicted of witchcraft and have been in prison for three years. "I've been collecting the relevant materials and obtaining medical checks for them," he says, "and would like to see them paroled in the next month. Often people like these just need someone to support them. Their families may not accept or have the legal knowledge to assist their relatives, or have other problems to deal with."
In addition to his prison monitoring duties, Mr. Sartoretto and his ONUCI colleagues campaign to raise awareness of human rights. For example, on 25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – they visited a local village and delivered sessions on gender-based violence.
The human rights team in Bondoukou also works with local NGOs. "It is our aim to make human rights progress sustainable" he comments " and to do so we are working along and training local partners on human rights issues, to take our place when ONUCI is gone."
Being a UNV volunteer gives Eugenio Sartoretto a different perspective. "Sometimes people are surprised to realize we are volunteers," he says. "But we are following an ideal more than anything else, which is to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights here... By doing this, we also hope to change people's perceptions about volunteerism."