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The Nelson Mandela Rules, an updated Guide for Prison Management in line with Human Rights

The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) were adopted in 1955, and constitute since then the universally acknowledged minimum standards for the management of prison facilities and the treatment of prisoners.  

Considering the advances in international law and correctional science, the UN General Assembly decided, in 2011, to establish an open-ended intergovernmental Expert Group to review and possibly revise the SMRs.

After an analysis process that involved five years of intense work by government experts, civil society and academics, the UN General Assembly adopted in December 2015, the revision of the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, which are now called the Nelson Mandela Rules. This designation was made to honor the legacy of the late President of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison in the course of his struggle for global human rights, equality, democracy and the promotion of a culture of peace.

It was also decided that the Nelson Mandela International Day, which falls on July 18, should be used to promote decent conditions of detention, raise awareness of the fact that persons deprived of their liberty are an integral part of society and value the work prison staff and social service of particular importance.

For more information on the Nelson Mandela International Day, please click here.

The Regional Office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for Central America and the Caribbean in Panama (UNODC ROPAN) provides technical assistance and advice to the Ministry of Government and the General Office of Prisons (DGSP) of Panama to implement the Nelson Mandela Rules. These constitute an updated guide to administer prisons in a safe and humane manner, respecting the human rights of people deprived of liberty and prison staff.

During the commemoration of the Nelson Mandela International Day, on 18 July, UNODC ROPAN will organize a training workshop on the Nelson Mandela Rules addressed to the Prison Directors and Departments' Chiefs of the DGSP. UNODC ROPAN will also donate books to prison authorities within the framework of the campaign, "A book for prison, a window to freedom". For more information about the campaign, please visit: -the-carcel.html


Statement on Nelson Mandela International Day

Today is a day for celebration of Nelson Mandela's outstanding contribution to the world. His legacy burns brightly, and like a torch, will be passed from generation to generation in the 21st century. In December 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the revised UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners-one of the most significant developments in modern international law.

These rules represent an updated blueprint for prison management in the 21st century which upholds and promotes prisoners' dignity. As a tribute to the late South African President's own experience of 27 years of imprisonment in the course of his long struggle for global human rights, equality, democracy and a culture of peace, the UNGA named the revised rules the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Starting this year, the day also draws attention to the often forgotten prison population of over 10.3 million people worldwide, as well as to those entrusted with their custody. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) joins today's call for humane prison conditions, for prisoners being part of society and for valuing prison staff.

A lot of prisons are in crisis. Many are overcrowded, others are inadequate. Across the world, prisoners face health risks, violence, high rates of recidivism, as well as emerging threats, such as violent extremism in prisons. All of these challenges have added to the complexity of combining security, safety and human dignity within prison systems.

As the guardian of the Nelson Mandela Rules, UNODC is responsible for providing technical assistance and advisory services to Member States in the field of penal reform. To achieve this goal, UNODC recently launched a new Global Programme on Addressing Prison Challenges, which aims to reduce the scope of imprisonment; strengthen prison management and improve prison conditions; and facilitate the social integration of prisoners upon release.  

On Nelson Mandela International Day, I call on every country to join UNODC in ensuring that these rules make a difference to the lives of prisoners globally. UNODC stands ready to assist. We must, at all times, have in mind the plight of prisoners, and undertake concrete action to treat them with respect and dignity, including every effort to encourage their rehabilitation.


Reference material:

UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules)

UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) - An updated blueprint for prison management in the 21st century



Training workshop on Nelson Mandela Rules


Previous events:

UNODC Introduces the Nelson Mandela Rules in Paraguay

Prison Staff and Prisoners Participated in the Commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day

The Republic of Panama Commemorates Nelson Mandela International Day

UNODC Participates in the Seminar on Human Rights and Institutional Violence in Latin America

UNODC Participates on the Latin American Workshop on Penitentiary Infrastructure

Prison staff of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru formed a regional network for the implementation of international standards

UNODC Participates in International Seminar on Human Rights and Visits APACs in Brazil