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Over 100 inmates die in DR Congo prisons since start of year, UN says

The United Nations logo is seen during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.

KINSHASA (Reuters) - More than 100 inmates have died so far this year in Democratic Republic of Congo's underfunded and chronically overcrowded prisons, a U.N. human rights official said on Wednesday.

The main cause of the deaths was contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, which spread easily in crowded facilities and require unavailable medical attention. Insufficient food also contributed, the official said.

The U.N.'s Joint Humans Rights Office has so far confirmed 104 deaths in detention since the start of 2024, its director Patrice Vahard said.

This compares to 222 prison deaths in 2023, he said in an interview.

Most of the recorded deaths occurred in Congo's eastern provinces of North Kivu and Tanganyika, and in the western province of Kwilu.

Vahard said this was where families lived too far away from prisons to bring detained relatives food.

Congo's prisons are among some of the world's most overcrowded, and all have a problem with inadequate funding, Vahard said. He cited a prison in Kwilu where a cell with a capacity of 50 people housed more than 200.

Congo's Human Rights Minister Albert Puela said the government was aware of the issue, and that efforts were being made to improve conditions and release inmates in pre-trial detention, which often exceeds legal limits because of judicial backlogs.

Around 70 inmates in pre-trial detention were released from the main prison in the capital Kinshasa last weekend.

(Reporting by Sonia Rolley and Ange Kasongo; Editing by Sofia Christensen and Barbara Lewis)