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 review 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.
LATEST DEVELOPMENT IN THE REVIEW PROCESS
The revised text of the Standard Minimum Rules was adopted by the UN Crime Commission on 22 May 2015, following the agreement on a revised text by the fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Expert Group. The “United Nations Revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” will be known as the “Mandela Rules” in honor of the late President of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The Rules have been transmitted to the Economic and Social Council for subsequent adoption by the UN General Assembly in December 2015. In a statement prior to the start of the UN Crime Commission, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez called for the adoption of the Rules, stating that their “adoption and implementation . . . reinforces human rights principles and provides greater protection for persons deprived of their liberty, updated procedural safeguards, and more effective guidance to national prison administrations.”
As the primary international standards relating to treatment in detention, the updated Rules emphasize that all prisoners shall be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings, and explicitly stress that prisoners must be protected from torture and other ill-treatment. The Rules also impose substantial limitations on the use of prolonged and prolonged solitary solitary confinement, regulate the use of restraints, and provide important updated guidelines in a number of other areas relevant to the prohibition of torture and other-ill-treatment.
FOURTH MEETING OF THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL EXPERT GROUP
The Fourth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Expert Group took place in Cape Town, South Africa, on March 1-5, 2015. Representatives of the Anti-Torture Initiative participated in the meeting, engaging in the revision process and representing the position of the Special Rapporteur on Torture. A revised text of the Standard Minimum Rules was agreed-upon during this meeting.
THIRD MEETING OF THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL EXPERT GROUP
The Third Meeting of the Intergovernmental Expert Group took place in Vienna, Austria on March 25-28, 2014. The meeting was originally scheduled for January 28-31, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil, but was postponed by the Government of Brazil due to “unforeseen circumstances at the national level, requiring the urgent attention of the Brazilian authorities that would otherwise have been involved in the meeting.”
Updated information on the Review process and the status of the Third Meeting of the Intergovernmental Expert Group can be found at the UNODC website.
In preparation for the meeting, the Secretariat to the Governing Bodies of the UNODC (Secretariat) prepared a working paper integrating proposals for revision submitted by Member States as of 30 September 2013, the preliminary areas of revision identified by the Expert Group and the current text of the Standard Minimum Rules. The Third Meeting of the Expert Group intends to review the proposals with the aim of producing a revised draft of the SMRs. The Committee against Torture, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Penal Reform International in cooperation with Essex University, and the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) in association with Conectas Derechos Humanos have also submitted documents for the event.
A May 2014 resolution from the UN Economic and Social Council, which is slated for adoption by the General Assembly, foresees the continuation of the revision process after the end of the Third Intergovernmental Expert Group Meeting, and “acknowledges with appreciation the important contributions” made by the Special Rapporteur in this process.
BACKGROUND ON SMR REVIEW PROCESS:
To learn more about the SMR review process, visit our pages dedicated to the following topics:
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 2011, acting upon a recommendation by the General Assembly (A/65/320), the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (Crime Commission) established an Intergovernmental Expert Group with the aim of analyzing best practices in order to revise the existing SMRs.
The Expert Group continues its work on the revision of the SMRs, reflecting the progressive development of international instruments pertaining to the treatment of prisoners since 1955, particularly the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, as well as advances in correctional science. The Expert Group‘s has identified nine preliminary areas for possible revision:
- 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 ongoing 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.
SIDE EVENTS ON “REVIEWING THE STANDARD MINIMUM RULES OF THE TREATMENT OF PRISONERS: PREVENTING TORTURE AND ILL-TREATEMENT
October 2013 – 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 during a side event at the 68th Session of the General Assembly in New York. The side event was organized by the ATI and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Denmark and Switzerland, Penal Reform International (PRI), APT, Amnesty International, Open Society Foundations, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Watch a video of the side event (Part I and Part II)
March 2014 – A second side-event on revising the SMR was organized on the sidelines of the 25th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The side-event was co-sponsored by the Anti-Torture Initiative, the OHCHR, the ACLU, PRI, and the Permanent Missions of Thailand and Switzerland to the UN. The side-event sought to provide a platform for discussion on substantive issues related to the SMR revision process.