Joint statement on the Nelson Mandela Rules

Mr. President,

I have the honour to deliver this joint statement on behalf of a cross-regional core group consisting of Poland, Uruguay, Thailand and Switzerland. This statement, which has received the support of 52 countries, recalls the historic adoption by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 of the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), to be known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

The Nelson Mandela Rules provide a set of universally acknowledged minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners. They define the minimum conditions to be met in order to respect the inherent dignity of prisoners as human beings.

After a five-year revision process commenced under the mandate of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice the revised Rules – which were first adopted in 1955 – introduce significantly advanced protection standards, especially in the fields of health care, investigation of death, disappearance and serious injury, searches of prisoners, cells and visitors, discipline and sanctions, access to legal representation, complaints and independent inspections. Many of these improvements incorporate standards for the prevention of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

Let me illustrate with two examples the improvements brought by the Nelson Mandela Rules. Firstly, the rules regarding health care for prisoners were enhanced. Rule 24 states that prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community and that they should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge and without discrimination. The Rules specifically call for continuity of treatment, including for HIV, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases as well as drug dependence.

Secondly, the Rules are the first international standard to provide guidance regarding the use of solitary confinement. The Rules provide a definition of solitary confinement and restrict its use to exceptional cases as a means of last resort, for as short a time possible and subject to independent review. According to the Rules, indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement is prohibited.

While the Nelson Mandela Rules provide a set of minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, they are supplemented by other international instruments, standards and norms.

Mr. President,

The Human Rights Council (HRC) has a significant role to play in the promotion and practical application of the Nelson Mandela Rules as minimum human rights requirements for the treatment of prisoners. Its thematic resolutions can, where appropriate, refer to these Rules and thereby disseminate them among States and other relevant stakeholders. Furthermore, the Council’s Special Procedures can integrate the Nelson Mandela Rules in their work, as appropriate with regard to their respective mandates. And in the Universal Periodic Review, States and other relevant stakeholders can use the Nelson Mandela Rules as a benchmark for recommendations to improve conditions of imprisonment.

Throughout the revision, the contributions of numerous international and regional organizations, non-governmental organizations, law enforcement and criminal justice authorities, academic entities and individual experts in the field of correctional science and human rights were of great importance. Their continued commitment and collaboration is also important for the practical application of the new set of rules.

Ultimately, the responsibility to respect the dignity of prisoners lies with the States. We therefore call upon all States to apply the Nelson Mandela Rules, including by sharing best practices and offering technical assistance. This Council offers a complementary forum for such exchange. Let us work together in making the Nelson Mandela Rules a reality for all prisoners across the globe.

Thank you.