A group of leading human right experts, with mandates relating to detention and women’s rights, has called for the implementation of the UN Bangkok Rules a decade after they were adopted.
The UN Bangkok Rules seek to reduce the imprisonment of women around the world and promote non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment that are designed to meet women’s needs and address the causes of their offending.
The group said it is important that best practices which aim at protecting the human rights of women in criminal justice systems should be replicated, scaled up and made accessible to every woman and girl that comes into contact with the criminal justice system.
Identifying the key sections that should be urgently implemented, the women’s rights group ask that women who commit low-level offences should be channeled away from formal judicial proceedings and towards resolution by non-judicial bodies, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Provide community-based responses to criminal offences committed by women that use a gender-sensitive and trauma-informed approach and address the structural causes that contribute to women’s incarceration.
“Promote gender-specific measures as an integral part of national policies on crime prevention, criminal justice and the treatment of offenders, including the rehabilitation and reintegration of women offenders into society.
“When sentencing women, take mitigating factors into account, such as a lack of criminal history, relative non-severity and nature of the crime, background including any experience of violence, and care-taking responsibilities; prioritize non-custodial sentences, and ensure girls and young women under 18 years are only detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period possible.
“Ensure measures relating to COVID-19 are assessed and adjusted for women by collecting dis-aggregated data and reporting on the gender-specific effects of COVID19 on women and girls in criminal justice systems. Include women in early release or diversion schemes as part of COVID-19 responses.
“Ensure that any change to detention regimes, including isolation and limits to contact with the outside world, take into account the specific impacts on women and girls.
“Urgently address and expand healthcare provision to women in prison, including preventative healthcare such as COVID-19 testing and breast cancer screening, pre- and post-natal care and mental healthcare.
“Review and revise national legislation and practices to ensure that women are able to access the highest attainable standard of health, including the full exercise of their reproductive rights without fear of criminalization.
“Significantly overhaul and expand responses to mental healthcare needs for women in prison. Undertake specific efforts to mitigate negative mental health impacts of COVID-19 measures for women in detention, including by working with community based services,” the group added.
Members of the group who made call are Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Dubravka Šimonovic, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Hilary Gbedemah, Chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; Najat Maalla M’jid, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children; Malcolm Evans, Chairperson on behalf of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.
Others are; Leigh Toomey, Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Elizabeth Broderick, Chair of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice; Joel Hernández García, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Alejandra Mora Mora, Executive Secretary of the InterAmerican Commission of Women; Maria Teresa Manuela, Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa; Mykola Gnatovskyy, President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.