UN rights expert urges review of prisoner treatment

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez [official profile] on Tuesday encouraged governmental review [press release] of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners [text, PDF] adopted in 1955, with particular emphasis on limiting solitary confinement. Mendez noted the rules fail to keep pace with international human rights law regarding torture, as there is no explicit language prohibiting torture and other forms ill-treatment. The Rapporteur said that a review of the rules must not lower existing standards, as prison staff often depend on the rules as minimum accepted guidelines. According to Mendez, prison conditions have deteriorated in recent years [UN News Centre report] as the number of prisoners worldwide increased to 10 million, amidst the tightening of state resources. Mendez believes a change to the rules could help reform the prison system and modify practices which amount to torture under human rights law: "there is a need to regulate the use of solitary confinement, including inserting an absolute ban on its use for indefinite or prolonged durations, and to prohibit any use of solitary confinement against juveniles, persons with mental disabilities and women who are pregnant or nursing."

Since his appointment in 2010 by the UN Human Rights Council, Mendez has been an advocate for human rights around the world, and he is scheduled to visit a number of prisons in 2014 to review conditions and monitor human rights violations. Earlier this month Mendez urged the end of solitary confinement for a US prisoner [JURIST report] charged with murdering a prison guard in the state of Louisiana in 1972. The US prisoner is being held under indefinite solitary confinement, which Mendez believes amounts to torture and a violation of human rights law. A unified hunger strike in opposition to solitary confinement by 30,000 prisoners across California prompted a response from Mendez [JURIST report] and exemplifies the pressure on this issue. Another important policy issue for Mendez is health care treatment for prisoners [JURIST report], which he addressed in March of this year.

 

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