U.N. Considers Revisions to Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners

U.N. Considers Revisions to Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners

The U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal
held its 22nd session in late April 2013. A significant item on the
Commission’s agenda was the development of revised Standard Minimum Rules for
the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). Originally adopted in 1955, SMRs are rules
that regulate the bare minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners in all
countries. They are so significant that the U.S. State Department has called
them “the most important set of guidelines” governing how prisoners and
detainees are treated.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), in this case
the ACLU, Amnesty International, and Penal Reform International have
continuously advocated updating the SMRs to ensure they conform with
contemporary international human rights standards. According to the ACLU, the
NGOs are “advocating for progressive amendments aimed at strengthening this
historic document by bringing it in line with international law and norms regarding
the rights of people deprived of their liberty.”

In December 2012, the ACLU attended the U.N.
Inter-Governmental Expert Group Meeting (IGEM) in Buenos Aires. While at the
meeting, the ACLU pushed for more stringent protections against long-term solitary
confinement, reductions in prison violence, the ability of prisoners to be
represented by retained counsel at disciplinary hearings and the prohibition of
“discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

While some concessions were made and progress looked
promising, the U.S. government delegation reportedly hindered progress by
insisting that all agreements made during the IGEM meeting not be deemed
agreements, but simply topics discussed. The U.S. delegation also moved to
exclude NGOs from participating in future discussions, recommending that only
government delegations are present at future meetings.

The ACLU said the need to update the existing SMRs is
important, but how to update them is the question. While NGOs continue to push
for several key reforms – modifying solitary confinement policies and
procedures being chief among them – the U.S. delegation continues to frustrate
their efforts, leaving the impression that while the U.S. condemns human rights
abuses in other countries, it refuses to look at abuses in its own prison

Source: www.aclu.org