Thematic Report on the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR)
On 22 October 2013, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez (SRT) addressed the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly to present his latest thematic report on the revision of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). The report represented a significant contribution to the ongoing review process of the SMRs led by the UN Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODC) with the active participation of many States and civil society organizations. The review process is intended to reflect critical developments in international human rights law since the 1957 adoption of the SMRs, and to enhance the ability of the SMRs to serve as a useful tool for States and civil society to protect and uphold the rights of persons deprived of their liberty.
The SRT’s latest report represents a significant contribution to this process by reflecting on several areas targeted for reviews and analyzing their interplay with the international prohibition of torture and ill-treatment through the identification of the procedural standards and safeguards that States are obliged to implement. The SRT has expressed the hope that this report will contribute meaningfully to the progressive development of the SMRs and help to expand their implementation as they relate to the prevention of torture and ill treatment globally.
- Read the SRt’s English and Spanish statement before the Third Committee of the General Assembly
- Read the press release on the SRT’s findings and a summary of his presentation
- Watch the video of the SRT’s presentation to the UNGA
- Watch a video of the SRT’s press conference.
Side event ”Reviewing the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners: Preventing Torture and Ill-Treatment”
The Special Rapporteur and other distinguished panelists, including the Chair of the Committee against Torture, Mr. Claudio Grossman, the Chair of the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Mr. Malcom Evans, and representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, ACLU, Penal Reform International, and Amnesty International discussed the new SMR report and the next steps in the SMR review process in a side event organized by the ATI and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Denmark and Switzerland, Penal Reform International, APT, Amnesty International, Open Society Foundations, and American Civil Liberties Union.
Watch a video of the side event (Part I and Part II)
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SMR REVIEW PROCESS:
The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) were adopted by the First UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in 1955 and approved by the UN’s Economic and Social Council in a July 1957 resolution. The SMRs were extended by the Council in a May 1977 resolution. The UNODC is the guardian of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Since their adoption, the SMRs have become a vital standard in the context of criminal justice and human rights law. The SMRs, however, were adopted prior to existence of the human rights mechanisms as we know them today. Thus, many of these standards are outdated and do not reflect the important developments in international human rights law in the past decades.
In recognition of the need to update the SMRs, the UN General Assembly has requested the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (Crime Commission) to establish an open-ended intergovernmental expert group (“Expert Group”) with the aim of analyzing best practices in order to revise the existing SMRs and ensure these standards reflect recent advances in correctional science.
The latest development in the ongoing review process is the passage of General Assembly Resolution 67/188 of March 12, 2013. The Resolution authorizes the Expert Group to continue its work on the revision of the SMR and highlights the progressive development of international instruments pertaining to the treatment of prisoners since 1955, and particularly the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol. The Resolution further takes cognizance of the Expert Group‘s recommendations as regards preliminary areas for possible revision, including:
- Respect for prisoners’ inherent dignity and value as human beings
- Medical and health services
- Disciplinary action and punishment, including the role of medical staff, solitary confinement, and reduction of diet
- Investigation of all deaths in custody, as well as any sign or allegations of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners
- Protection and special needs of vulnerable groups deprived of their liberty, taking into consideration countries in difficult circumstances
- The right of access to legal representation
- Complaints and independent inspection
- The replacement of outdated terminology, and
- Training of relevant staff to implement the SMR
The Special Rapporteur hopes to participate in this on-going review process and provide meaningful contributions to this dialogue, focusing specifically on how the SMRs relate to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. The current review of the SMRs presents an essential opportunity to improve SMRs and to ultimately make them more relevant and useful everywhere in the struggle to abolish torture.