Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
NOUMEA, New Caledonia – Gerard Jodar, the union leader of the pro-independence trade union federation Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers (USTKE), has campaigned for change in New Caledonia’s prison conditions, and now warns of a possible uprising at the Camp Est prison in Noumea because of the poor, and inhumane conditions there.
On January 14, 2010, an appeal court ordered the immediate release of Jodar, who was imprisoned in June for his role in a protest at Noumea’s domestic airport. Jodar was convicted to a one-year prison term, however, has been released after serving a 7-month prison term.
It is believed that the court was influenced by the visit of a European Parliament delegation led by the French Deputy and activist, Jose Bove. During a visit to Camp Est prison in Noumea, the parliament delegation denounced its poor condition, calling it an “unacceptable situation.”
A spokesman for USTKE, Joseph Boanemoa, says the release means that they have “succeeded in highlighting the unacceptable state of the prison…as well as underlining their right to protest.”
The incarceration of Jodar is being used by USTKE to campaign for changes at the prison, which is among the most overcrowded prisons run by France.
Jodar has condemned the terrible prison conditions in Noumea’s Camp Est prison. He says that the prison is heavily overcrowded and is full of “young indigenous Kanak prisoners living in squalid conditions.” Jodar approximates that 97% of the prisoners are young Kanaks.
The prison, intended for only 190 detainees, has 417 detainees living within its walls. For each 11-square metre cell, there are five or six prisoners.
There is no education system at Camp Est prison, and thus no way to facilitate reintegration into society.
Also, there is not enough food to feed the starving prisoners.
Jodar contrasted France’s role in “championing human rights with the ‘colonial era’ prison conditions.”
In other words, the people in the jail are being treated like “dogs,” according to Jodar.
Not only are conditions poor for the prisoners, it is also poor for the prison staff. They are significantly understaffed, and because of the poor working conditions, the guards are discouraged.
Jodar has warned of a possible uprising at Camp Est prison because of the poor conditions there, and he continues to campaign for changes at the prison.
In effect of Jodar’s imprisonment and statements regarding the poor prison conditions, there have been clashes between the working class suburb of Montravel and the Saint Louis tribal area.
The conflict has put the spotlight on serious poverty issues among urban Kanaks. Bitter discontent has emerged over social inequalities between indigenous Kanaks and neighboring Islanders, and also between French settlers and metropolitan residents.
For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International – Jodar warns of New Caledonia jail revolt – 15 January 2010
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Australia – USTKE welcome release of union president from New Caledonia jail – 14 January 2010
Radio New Zealand International – New Caledonia court releases USTKE leader Jodar after 7 months in prison – 14 January 2010
Solomon Star – New Caledonia court releases USTKE leader Jodar after 7 months in prison – 14 January 2010
Pacific Scoop – Jailed union leader calls for probe into “terrible” prison conditions for Kanaks – 29 August 2009