‘Stateless’ prisoners rot in jail

SCORES of prisoners without birth certificates and national identity cards are languishing in jail as they are ineligible for the Presidential amnesty due to their “Statelessness”.

BY JAMES MUONWA

A Stateless person is an undocumented individual without proof of nationality and is not legally recognised as a citizen of a particular country.

Testifying before the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) panel of inquiry in Chinhoyi last week, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) chief correction officer, Gilbert Munemo acknowleged there were many inmates who have never obtained birth certificates and national identity cards.

“According to a recent survey we conducted in Mashonaland West, it was observed that many inmates do not have birth certificates and national identity documents,” said Munemo. He said, according to a sampled population of inmates in Mashonaland West prisons, the majority of them failed to access personal documents as they were raised by single parents and the stringent requirements at the Registrar-General’s department had prevented them from getting registered.

Munemo gave an example of one undocumented prisoner who has failed to be registered after the RG’s office asked him to bring a maternal relative 10 years older than him who shares the same surname. The prisoner, Munemo said, could not identify the relative to facilitate his registration.
Hurungwe Prison has a total of 208 inmates of which 115 do not have either a birth certificate or identity card, Chinhoyi has 313 prisoners of which 97 do not have documents, Kadoma with a total 579 prisoners, 86 are undocumented and Karoi (306) of which 72 either do not have a birth certificate or identity card, or both.

Quizzed by commissioner Sheila Matindike what rights prisoners were being denied due to non-registration, Munemo said some inmates failed to qualify for Presidential amnesty as their ages could not be ascertained, while a significant number could not sit for examinations in order to get educational or professional qualifications.

“Presidential pardons come with certain specific conditions such as age, hence due to the fact that some inmates do not have birth certificates and identity cards they do not qualify,” said Munemo.

ZPCS, according to Munemo, recommends the softening of regulations at the RG’s office for one to obtain documents, reduction of registration fees and decentralisation of offices. ZHRC said accessing national documents such as birth certificates was a huge challenge countrywide.

ZHRC deputy chaiperson, commissioner Ellen Sithole said preliminary findings on access to main personal documents which people were failing to get were birth certificates, citizenships, identity cards, and to a lesser extent, passports and death certificates.

Sithole reiterated undocumented people would find it difficult to access basic human rights such as health, education, social protection, housing, travel documents and political rights.

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