“Mandela Rules” passed, standards on the treatment of prisoners enhanced for the 21st century

Passage of landmark resolution at the Vienna Crime Commission revises the 1955 standard minimum rules for treatment of prisoners, ensuring they remain the universally acknowledged benchmark for prison administrations worldwide

Vienna, 22 May (UN Information Service) – Following agreement on UN rules for the treatment of prisoners, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, praised Member States’ efforts and said the resolution heralded a new era for the improvement of prisoners’ treatment everywhere.

“I offer my warmest congratulations to Member States for their constructive spirit and commitment in passing the resolution on the UN standard minimum rules. Thanks to your work, the world now has an updated blueprint offering practical guidance on how prisons should be managed safely, securely and humanely," the UNODC’s Executive Director said.

Countries are encouraged to reflect the “Mandela Rules” in their national legislation so that prison administrators can apply them in their daily work.  

At their core, the rules stress the overriding principle that all prisoners shall be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings. “Most importantly”, Mr. Fedotov went on, “the rules stress that prisoners will be protected from torture and other cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This means the rules probably represent one of the most significant human rights advances in recent years.”

The revision focussed on nine thematic areas, including health care in prisons, investigations of deaths in custody, disciplinary measures including strict limitations on the use of solitary confinement, professionalization of prison staff and independent inspections, among other topics.  

Mr. Fedotov was speaking on the margins of the 24th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which is held in Vienna every year. His comments came as the Crime Commission drew to a close, and endorsed the revision of the rules for subsequent adoption by the General Assembly.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners are to be named the “Mandela Rules” to honour the legacy of the late President of South Africa. These rules are an essential update of the original rules adopted at the very first Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Geneva in 1955.