The United Nations General Assembly unanimously updated the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, now known as the Mandela Rules. This revision, which was the result of four years of work, incorporated significant improvements into the international standards on the rights of persons deprived of their liberty.

The update to the Rules aims to provide greater protection to persons deprived of their liberty by limiting the use of solitary confinement, searches, coercive measures and disciplinary sanctions; requiring exhaustive and independent inspections of places of detention; and demanding the investigation of all deaths and all possible cases of torture or ill treatment during confinement. They also specify standards on health care and the rights of persons with disabilities, among other issues.

The Standard Minimum Rules are a parameter for detention conditions worldwide. In Argentina, the Supreme Court of Justice, in its 2005 ruling on the Verbitsky case, established that all detentions should respect the guidelines set forth in the Rules, since they make up the standard for decent treatment required by Article 18 of the National Constitution.

Inhumane detention conditions persist in prisons and police precincts in Buenos Aires province due to overcrowding, high rates of violence and periodic complaints of ill treatment, illegal pressure and torture. A similar scenario exists in the Federal Penitentiary Service and in other provinces of Argentina.

In psychiatric asylum institutions, situations of abandonment, social exclusion and stigmatization are prevalent. The use of solitary confinement measures, overmedication as a means of social control, abuse, and deaths that go uninvestigated continue to characterize places of confinement established for mental health reasons.

The update to the Standard Minimum Rules should fuel the adoption of policies for the prevention and sanction of violence that ensure the rights of detained persons. More specifically, Argentine officials should put into motion the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, a body to oversee monitoring and compliance with human rights standards like the Mandela Rules throughout the country.

CELS along with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Corporación Humanas and Penal Reform International, participated in this revision process starting in 2011, attending meetings of experts and sessions of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. The standards have been improved. However, we regret that only some of the Rules’ thematic areas were revised and other important discussions, such as the use of force in places of confinement, were not included.

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