PRI’s Policy Director Andrea Huber will be joining Rashida Manjoo, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women on a side-event panel on Violence against Women in Custodial Settings at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York today.
International human rights law requires that all people deprived of their liberty should be treated humanely and with respect for their inherent human dignity, and there a number of specific standards that cover the treatment of prisoners. Andrea will be talking in particular about the relatively new UN Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Sanctions for Women Offenders, and how they can support the protection of women and girls against violence and abuse in custodial situations.
A large percentage of women prisoners have been victims of violence prior to their admission to prison and they have specific and greater primary healthcare needs than male prisoners.
Women have a heightened vulnerability to mental and physical abuse during arrest, questioning and in prison. Women prisoners are at particular risk of rape, sexual assault and humiliation. Custody for many women means ill-treatment, including threats of rape, touching, ‘virginity testing’, being stripped naked, invasive body searches, insults and humiliations of a sexual nature or even rape. There are also cases of dependency upon prison staff which leads to increased vulnerability to sexual exploitation.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), the blueprint for the treatment of prisoners since their adoption 55 years ago, contain little gender-specific guidance but there are two key principles:
- Rule 53 enshrines the obligation for women prisoners to be supervised and attended to by female prison officers (para. 3) and for no male member of staff to enter a women’s institution unless accompanied by a woman officer (para. 2).
- Rule 8 (a) provides that women and men should be detained in separate facilities.
The UN Bangkok Rules filled a gap in the standards and provides detailed guidance on how prison systems should address the gender-specific needs of women in their care. Key provisions include:
- prompt access to legal counsel and to families upon admission – Rule 2 (admission)
- medical examinations by independent healthcare professionals (including detection and documentation of violence during arrest/ interrogation – on admission, as well as on release and transfer to another facility (Rules 6 and 10 BR)
- provisions on body searches (Rules 19 to 21 BR)
- prohibition of instruments of restraint on women during labour, during birth and immediately after birth (Rule 24)
- prohibition of solitary confinement or disciplinary segregation for pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers in prison (Rule 22 BR)
- adequate provision of hygiene and healthcare (Rule 5, Rules 10-18)
- existence of an independent, effective complaints mechanism (Rule 25)
- regular (external) monitoring by bodies that are independent and include women members (Rule 25 (3))
The side-event will take place today – 13 March, 1.45-2.45 PM, Conference Room B, NLB, New York.
It will be moderated by the Special Rapporteur, who will be joined by Ms Elizabeth Brundige from Cornell Law School, as well as representatives from the Thai Permanent Mission and UNODC.
Read our recent blog for International Women’s Day on the problem of violence against women in prison.