Ladies and gentlemen,
We are here today because we share a vision of an inclusive, gender-responsive criminal justice system that upholds human rights and addresses the specific needs of women and vulnerable groups in prison.
This vision is embodied in the Bangkok Rules – the first-ever UN standards for the treatment of women in detention.
We owe a deep debt of gratitude to Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha of Thailand for her determined efforts to achieve adoption of the Bangkok Rules by the General Assembly in 2010, and to push for their worldwide implementation.
UNODC is also grateful to Her Royal Highness for her exceptional dedication over the years as our Goodwill Ambassador for the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia.
She has played an instrumental role in advancing respect for human rights and promoting gender-responsive criminal justice policies and practices – not only in Southeast Asia, but globally.
And she has been a compassionate source of hope and indeed inspiration for countless incarcerated women.
With the global prison population at an all-time high of 11.5 million, improving conditions for women prisoners is more necessary than ever today.
Although men account for 93 percent of prisoners worldwide, over the last 20 years, the number of women has increased at a faster pace – 33 percent – compared to 25 percent for men.
This underlines the urgency of addressing the needs of incarcerated women.
The Bangkok Rules introduced a fundamental shift in prison policy and practice that acknowledges the specific challenges facing women in the criminal justice system.
They set out gender-sensitive guidelines for preventing violence against women in detention and providing them with appropriate care for their physical and mental health. They also recommend non-custodial measures as alternatives to imprisonment for women.
Most women in prison are there for non-violent offenses and do not pose a danger to society. Non-custodial measures can reduce the social and economic cost of imprisonment, while helping to address women’s specific needs and fostering their reintegration.
Community-based interventions are more beneficial to women themselves, as well as to their families and their communities. Yet they are widely under-utilized.
So we need to do more both to improve conditions for women in prison and to encourage non-custodial measures.
UNDOC is doing its part. We provide evidence-based research, policy guidance and capacity-building support to all stakeholders to improve prison conditions for women and to implement effective alternatives to incarceration.
Allow me to mention a few examples of UNODC’s recent initiatives in Southeast Asia.
In 2020, together with the Thailand Institute of Justice, we launched a Toolkit on Gender-Responsive Non-Custodial Measures, as well as an e-learning module on the Nelson Mandela Rules in Thai language in 2021, to share good practices broadly among criminal justice practitioners.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our primary focus was on improving health conditions in prisons and addressing communicable disease threats through policy development, capacity development, provision of equipment and infrastructure support to prisons.
In 2022, together with ICRC and Rangsit University, we provided some 30 prison officials from eight countries in the Asia and Pacific region with training on international prison standards, including the Bangkok Rules, to better address the needs of prisoners and improve prison conditions.
In March of this year, we convened a regional consultation on health in detention for 120 senior prison officials, correctional officers, prison healthcare providers and health department officials from 12 countries in South and Southeast Asia.
The consultations addressed gender-responsive health services highlighting the Bangkok Rules.
Currently, we are working with Thailand’s Department of Corrections to improve sanitary conditions in 143 prisons throughout the country to ensure that women prisoners, especially the elderly and those with disabilities, have access to adequate toilet systems.
So far, over 21,000 imprisoned women have benefitted – nearly 70 percent of all women in Thai prisons.
And later this year, UNODC will be collaborating with Indonesia’s Directorate General of Corrections to conduct an assessment of healthcare services in women’s prisons.
In parallel, we will provide capacity-building support for prison staff to ensure that the Bangkok Rules are being implemented.
So let us follow the sterling example set by Princess Bajrakitiyabha and step up our efforts to ensure that women prisoners are being protected, receiving the care that they need, and treated with respect.
We have a powerful instrument in the Bangkok Rules. Let us make the most of these guidelines to ensure that no one is left behind in the criminal justice system, and that women prisoners are treated with dignity.
This will help to pave the way for an inclusive, fair and equitable society for all.