In Benin, the body of his wife, killed by security forces, has lain at the morgue for a year now

By Salifou Assouin Saidou

“It is essential not only that justice is done for Prudence but that justice is seen to be done throughout the world”

Prudence Amoussou, a 37-year-old woman from Benin, died on 2 May 2019 having been shot in the back the day previously by security forces suppressing protestors. Her body has been held at the National Hospital Centre and Cotonou University morgue for a year now. The authorities state that she died “of an illness” but her family are demanding an independent and impartial judicial inquiry, including an autopsy, to determine the actual cause of death. Here, her husband describes the assault course he has been confronted with when endeavouring to see justice done for his wife and the mother of his children.

The call I received in Parakou on 2 May 2019 lasted no longer than a fraction of a second but it had a devastating impact on me. The news from Cotonou tore my life apart. The very glue that bound me to life had dissolved. My wife, Prudence Amoussou, had died from gunshot wounds.

Our misfortune commenced on 1 May, two days after the legislative elections, when demonstrations were taking place in several towns around Benin, including the capital Cotonou and some of its neighbourhoods.

Cadjehoun is one such neighbourhood where my wife runs a small food store and, on 1 May, it was the scene of clashes between protestors and the security forces. Prudence was on her way to find her elder daughter, whom she had sent out earlier to assess whether the situation was yet calm enough re-open her store, when she was hit in the back by a bullet. Wounded, she died in hospital the next day, leaving behind a five-week-old baby and six other children.

We have suffered an interminable and harrowing wait for her body for a year now

For our children, for Prudence’s family and for myself, her death came as a real shock. We are immensely sad and we have suffered an interminable and harrowing wait for her body for a year now, still unable to bury her or give her a proper send off. This terrible situation only adds to our pain.

It is not because we do not want to lay her to rest but because of the multiple blockages and barriers that have been put in our path since her death. We knocked on every door from May to early August 2019 with no success. It was a real assault course.

On 6 August 2019, the hospital managers finally called us to come and pick up the death certificate and collect her body. However, the comment on the certificate drawn up by the Hubert Maga National University Hospital Centre of death “following an illness” completely destroyed us. My wife was suffering no illness prior to the events of 1 May.

Our pain was now compounded by a denial of justice.

In our search for justice we have led from the front, supported by several organisations, including Amnesty International. The first battle: to get the true cause of her death established.

We have requested a cause-of-death certificate, without success. After no less than nine requests, including one made by Prudence’s father, we took the painful decision not to retrieve her body until an autopsy had been conducted and the true cause of death revealed.

Since I am based in Parakou, Prudence’s elder sister has been looking after the children in Cotonou following her death. Whenever I go to visit them, they talk endlessly about their mother. Her death has left a gaping void in our lives.

My suffering is magnified whenever I see our baby daughter, only five months old at the time of her mother’s death. Another of Prudence’s sisters, with a baby of the same age, was able to breastfeed her.

Prudence’s death totally changed many things in our lives and in those of her family. She used to take care of everyone, including her own elderly father. Her death remains painful to us to this day. The words she spoke to her elder daughter are still ringing in my head.

When alive, Prudence used to tell us that her children would continue their studies in a way she was never able to. She did her very best to ensure her children would go far in life.

When alive, Prudence used to tell us that her children would continue their studies in a way she was never able to. She did her very best to ensure her children would go far in life.

The children remain in school thanks largely to the support of a non-governmental organisation and it is my desire that they should succeed.

Something remarkable has, however, emerged from our search for justice. Over the months, despite the administrative and judicial torpor and clear acts of intimidation, many people – lawyers and organisations included – have mobilised to support us.

Legal decisions have, nevertheless, put many obstacles in our path to justice. On 24 October 2019, the investigating judge at Cotonou Court decided to dismiss all cases relating to deaths occurring during the post-electoral violence. Despite these setbacks, we have remained tall in our fight for justice.

A week later, Benin’s parliament voted through an “amnesty for criminal acts” committed during the post-electoral violence. This law means that demanding justice for Prudence and making the truth known about her death will now be even more difficult, albeit not impossible. We are still standing tall. A year has now passed with my wife’s body still in the morgue, a year in which I, my children and her family have suffered but we remain committed and prepared to ensure her death does not go unpunished.

It is both distressing and shocking that a year has passed without the family being able to see Pridence’s body”

Thousands of people in Benin and around in the world have joined my family and I to renew our demand for justice for Prudence. It will be impossible for us to mourn her death until the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

A year has passed without being able to see my wife’s body, unable to retrieve it to organise her funeral, not receiving a certificate stating the true circumstances of her death, and without justice being done. This has been immensely distressing for us.

It is essential not only that justice is done for Prudence but that justice is seen to be done throughout the world.


* Salifou Assouin Saidou is the husband of Mrs Prudence Amoussou, who was shot in the back on 1 May 2019 and passed away the next day. Salifou is demanding justice and reparation for his wife’s death.