12 October 2015
The United Nations has launched the Nelson Mandela Rules, a guideline to protect the rights of detainees.
Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, describing it as “a great step forward”, on 7 October.
The United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted the crucial revisions of the 60-year-old international standards on treatment of prisoners at a meeting on 22 May in Vienna, in Austria. Now the Mandela Rules have been adopted by the UN General Assembly, which has published them.
— NelsonMandela (@NelsonMandela)October 9, 2015
UN General Assembly president Mogens Lykketoft recalled the spirit of Mandela. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails,” he quoted. “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
Lykketoft said that nations had failed to protect the human rights of prisoners. Too often, the driving principle behind prisoner treatment had been to see these individuals as entirely separate from communities and societies.
“Hidden from our gaze, and indeed sometimes before our very eyes, prisoners have suffered abuse and mistreatment.”
The basic outline
The Mandela Rules “outlines that there shall be no discrimination; that the religious beliefs and moral precepts of prisoners shall be respected; and that legal representation and protection are mandated in regard to vulnerable groups within the prison populations”, reads the UN website.
Ivan Šimonović, assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the revised rules were much more specific on matters such as defining the scope on solitary confinement and first-time guidance on intrusive searches, including strip and body cavity searches.
But implementation could be a challenge, said Lykketoft. “The crucial challenge for member states will be to translate these rules into a reality and to increase co-operation both within and outside the UN system to improve the lives of prisoners throughout the world.”
Šimonović added: “That is what Mr Mandela would have expected from us.”
South Africa chaired the expert group in the revision of the Standard Minimum Rules.
The Mandela Rules now contain an expanded section of basic principles, including the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The independence of health care staff is assured, and extensive restrictions are placed on disciplinary measures, including the prohibition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days.
Clear and detailed instructions are provided on issues such as cell and body searches, registration and record keeping, investigations into deaths and complaints of torture and other ill-treatment, the needs of specific groups, independent inspections of prisons, the right to legal representation and more.
Source: United Nations