Bangkok Rules: Women in detention have rights too
On 21 December 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted by consensus the "Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders", commonly known as the "Bangkok Rules", as the experts’ meeting that led to their drafting took place in the capital of Thailand. The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) welcomes this new development of specific standards for vulnerable groups in detention.
It is a particularly encouraging milestone for women in detention, as gender-sensitivity is generally disregarded in places of deprivation of liberty. In fact, as stated in the introduction to the Rules, "most existing prison facilities worldwide were designed primarily for male prisoners, whereas the number of female prisoners has significantly increased over the years."
The international group of experts that drafted the Rules clearly recognized the fact that the "Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners" adopted more than fifty years ago drew too little attention to women’s particular needs and upheld the risk of discrimination. The "Bangkok Rules" can therefore be considered as a development of the principle of non-discrimination embodied in Rule 6 of the Standard Minimum Rules, which lacked a comprehensive approach to the gender dimension in places of deprivation of liberty.
This new non-binding instrument sets out standards covering the general management of institutions detaining women, whether pre-trial or sentenced, but also provides additional guidance for the treatment of juvenile female prisoners, children detained with their mother, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. It also recalls the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures ("Tokyo Rules") and their particular relevance for women. More so the rules stress the paramount importance of research, planning, evaluation, public awareness-raising and sharing of information as ways to implement and spread these new standards. Finally, it strongly recommends the inclusion of women within monitoring boards or supervisory bodies, as well as a capacity-building and training for all staff employed in women’s prisons.
During their visits, most monitoring bodies face situations where women in detention suffer various forms of gender-based discrimination leading to violations of their rights. For instance, the mere fact that fewer institutions hold female detainees means that women prisoners are often detained in prisons located far from their home. This is a typical example of gender-based discrimination in institutions primarily designed for male prisoners. Other distinctive examples of the vulnerability that characterizes the detention of women, such as their specific hygienic needs, searches and sexual abuse are thoroughly addressed. Monitoring bodies will thus be able to better support their recommendations in respect to female detainees thanks to this new set of standards.
Convinced that the "Bangkok Rules" fills a vacuum and will help strengthening the protection of female prisoners, the APT strongly encourages all actors to disseminate them as widely as possible, not only amongst monitoring bodies, but also prison authorities, policymakers, legislators, the prosecution service, the judiciary, the probation service, the civil society and the media.