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The United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted crucial revisions of 60-year-old international standards on treatment of prisoners at a meeting today in Vienna, which Amnesty International said could herald in a new era of respect for prisoners’ human rights. 
 
The Mandela Rules include extensive revisions and additions to the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which date back to 1955. It is expected the UN General Assembly will adopt the new rules later this year.
 
“The Mandela Rules could herald in a new era in which prisoners’ human rights are fully respected,” said Yuval Ginbar, Legal Adviser at Amnesty International, who attended the Vienna meeting. 
 
“The rules, if fully implemented, would help turn imprisonment from a wasted time of suffering and humiliation into one used for personal development leading to release, to the benefit of society as a whole.”
 
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 healthcare 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.
 
Amnesty International joined a coalition of NGOs and academics which took an active part in the five-year process, working for a progressive redrafting of the Rules. 
 
The organization calls on all states to study the Mandela Rules and implement them fully in law, policy and practice. 
 
In the words of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who spent 27 years of his life in prison: 
 
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”