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Updated 06/23/2006

U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

Several major human rights instruments address the rights of prisoners. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture both prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, and the ICCPR requires that prisoners be treated with respect and dignity. The U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners is the most comprehensive human rights instrument addressing the treatment and rights of persons deprived of liberty. The Standard Minimum Rules were adopted in 1957 by the U.N. Economic and Social Council. Although they are not legally binding, they provide guidelines for international and domestic law.

The Standard Minimum Rules hold that all prisoners should be registered and documented, that their religious beliefs be respected, and that they be provided with decent living conditions including adequate food and light, temperature control, and access to sanitary facilities. In addition, corporal punishment and isolation are not acceptable forms of discipline or punishment, according to the guidelines. Young and mentally “abnormal” detainees should be kept in institutions separate from adult prisons. The Standard Minimum Rules also cover the education, work and health care rights of all prisoners.  

For more information

Full text of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners