Human Rights Day is observed around the world on 10th December. On this day in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted; setting out the inalienable rights that every human being is entitled to.

The theme of this year’s Human Rights Day is equality, relating to Article 1 of the UDHR – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. But what does Human Rights Day and the principle of equality mean for prisoners?

When someone is imprisoned, some of their human rights may be limited or removed, e.g. the right to liberty, the right to vote (in some countries) and freedom from forced labour. Human rights for prisoners may not apply in the same way as they do for people in the community, but this does not exempt prisoners from being treated with dignity and respect.

In fact, in 1957 the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were drawn up, which outlined the human rights that all prisoners should have as an absolute minimum. In 2015, these rules were revised and adopted by the United Nations as the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’ in honour of the late South African president who spent 27 years in prison.

Just like in the UDHR, it is stated that the Mandela Rules should be applied equally to every prisoner and that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, religion or any other status.

Similarly, no prisoner should be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Mandela Rules also protect prisoners from solitary confinement, which should only be used in exceptional cases and for as short a time as possible. We know this to not always be the case, and during the pandemic many of the of the prisoners we support have been kept in increasingly isolating conditions.

Prisoners also have to the right to be treated equally to those in the community when it comes to access to healthcare, food and clean water. The Mandela Rules state that prisoners should receive the same level of healthcare as non-prisoners do in their country of detention. They have a right to regular and nutritious meals and access to clean drinking water at any time. Many of the prisoners we support are denied medical treatment, receive inadequate food, and have little to no access to clean water for drinking and washing. Our overseas prisoner grants are crucial for ensuring people can access the things their human rights entitle them to.

This Human Rights Day, can you help us to protect the rights and dignity of thousands of British people affected by overseas imprisonment?

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