Kostanay, Kazakhstan, February 2023 - “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” These words from Nelson Mandela remind us that the decisions taken on prisons affect each and every one of us. Rehabilitative prisons improve safety and security; they allow those leaving prisons to contribute to their communities; and they protect our humanity on both sides of the bars.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners – known as the Nelson Mandela Rules – provide clear benchmarks for prison officials on safety, security and the humane treatment of prisoners. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the custodian of these rules, working to promote and support their adoption worldwide.
For the rules to work, they must be embraced at every level – from policy makers through to prison staff working on the ground. These correctional staff have some of the greatest impact on the application of the rules, as they work with prisoners on a day-to-day basis. But reaching all these essential people to ensure they understand and apply the rules is a challenge. In recent years Kazakhstan has become a leader in Central Asia when it comes to the promotion and application of the Nelson Mandela Rules.
From 2018 to 2022 Kazakhstan took part in the UN - EU global initiative on preventing violent extremism in prisons, and since 2019 has been part of the UNODC Global Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters Detention Programme along with Iraq, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. This programme, funded by the Counterterrorism Bureau of the U.S. Department of State, aims to strengthen the capacity of prison officers to manage foreign terrorist fighter (FTF) prisoners. One of the key ways this is achieved in Kazakhstan is supporting the Kostanay Training Academy, including supporting the training of prison staff in the Nelson Mandela Rules.
Mr John Herbst, Central Asia Regional Programme Manager, Bureau of Counterterrorism, US Department of State, comments, “The Bureau of Counterterrorism has funded the FTF programme for the past four years. One of the greatest successes has been at here Kostanay where UNODC has partnered with staff to help develop new curricula and establish this facility as a regional and global leader in training prison staff.”
The training delivered at Kostanay Academy is informed by good practice from countries around the world, but is also tailored to the local context. UNODC has worked closely with Academy leaders and trainers to adapt international strategies and practices for use in Kazakhstan, and to ensure that all training offers responds to the challenges, responsibilities and capabilities of different stakeholders to ensure that it achieves maximum impact.
In November 2021 UNODC, with financial support from the Counterterrorism Bureau of the U.S. Department of State, helped to establish a new Research and Training Centre on the implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules at Kostanay Training Academy. To date, 3,000 prison and probation officers from Kazakhstan have completed the UNODC e-learning training course on the Nelson Mandela Rules at the centre. The centre offers training not only to Kazakhstani prison staff, but increasingly to countries across Central Asia.
Mr Nurken Mukhamerkaliyev, a.i. Head of Kostanay Training Academy, has seen progress since UNODC and Kostanay began their work in partnership. “Over the past three years we have trained academic staff as trainers and developed training curricula for prison officers, including on the management of high-risk prisoners. Kostanay Academy is committed to continuing our constructive cooperation in this area throughout the region of Central Asia.”
In July 2022, Kazakhstan became the first Central Asia country to join the Group of Friends of the Nelson Mandela Rules. The purpose of the group, which consists of 38 Member States, is to create awareness and promote the practical application of the United Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
The Nelson Mandela Rules e-learning course is available in all official UN languages, for free, to anyone wanting to use it. However, in order to reach remote areas of Kazakhstan, and to institutionalize the course as mandatory for all prison and probation officers in the entire nation, the national authorities of Kazakhstan requested UNODCs assistance in translating the course into the Kazakh language
In February 2023 the new Kazakh language version of the e-learning course was launched, thanks to the generous financial support of the Counterterrorism Bureau of the U.S. Department of State. The course is now in place on both the Kostanay Training Academy’s e-learning portal and the UNODC e-learning platform. This makes the course available in the country and beyond.
Speaking at the launch, Mr. Darkhan Amangeldiyev, Head of the Department of Criminal Law and Organization of the Execution of Punishment in Kazakhstan said, “Today is a historical day for our Academy. The e-learning course will enhance the capacity of law enforcement and prison officers. We are the champions of the Nelson Mandela Rules in Kazakhstan."
In just one month, 90 prison and probation officers (27% female) have completed e-learning course in Kazakh with support of Kostanay Training Academy. This success underscores the value national ownership and commitment when promoting international standards in prisons. These standards help ensure the humane management of all prisoners, including returning foreign terrorist fighters.