The Bangkok Rules
The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules),
adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 21 December 2010, is the first international instrument which provides specific and detailed guidelines on responding to the gender specific needs of women in the criminal justice system, as well as of the children of such women. After the adoption, Thailand, along with many other countries, international organizations and criminal justice agencies working with women, place a strong emphasis on putting these Rules into practice.
The concept of the UN Bangkok Rules stands on the principle that women prisoners and offenders have a different profile of risks and needs from their male counterparts. As women prisoners are not the majority population in the criminal justice system throughout the world, correctional facilities as well as treatment programmes in prison in many countries are likely to be designed for male inmates. As a result, most correctional facilities do not effectively respond to gender sensitivity of women prisoners such as hygiene and health care, children with mothers in prison, etc.
The change in the composition of the prison population in the past decades has highlighted the shortcomings in almost all prison systems in meeting the gender-specific needs of women prisoners. With the increase of the female prisoner population worldwide, there is a need to bring more clarity to gender responsive treatment of women prisoners and ways in which their needs should be addressed in prison.
The “United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders” is not intended to give undue attention to the needs of women prisoners over those of men but to create gender equality in treatment. These Rules are not intended to replace the 1955 Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), but rather to create an internationally accepted point of reference on the treatment of women prisoners for prison authorities worldwide, especially in relation to gender differences and unmet needs of women. Additionally, the Rules are not intended to grant women prisoners more privileges or better treatment than those of their male counterparts but to narrow the gap that exists so that the specific needs of women prisoners can be fulfilled.
The implementation of the Bangkok Rules is regarded as an addition to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) 1955 and United Nations Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (Tokyo Rules) that would ensure that the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders is carried out with dignity and preserves their human rights as much as possible.
The Bangkok Rules primarily focuses on gender sensitive issues and the specific needs of women. The text was developed based on numerous research studies on the treatment of women prisoners in many countries, including a number of related international standards.1 In order to cover the issues of female offenders and the appropriate treatment of women prisoners, including opportunities for communities to be involved in rehabilitation, the Bangkok Rules are divided into four parts as follows:
1a) The 1955 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners;
b) United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (The Tokyo Rules)
c) The 1988 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment;
d) The 1990 Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, and
e) United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Part 1 - Rules of General Application cover the general management of all categories of institutions involved with women deprived of their liberty, including criminal or civil cases, untried or convicted women prisoners, as well as women subject to security measures or corrective measures;
Part 2 - Rules Applicable to Special Categories relate to the classification and treatment of special categories of inmates; for example, inmates who have been victims of violence, pregnant inmates, and ethnic and racial minorities or indigenous inmates. This part is separated into two sub-sections, namely Section A: Prisoners under Sentence, and Section B: Prisoners under Arrest or Awaiting Trial. The Rules in Section A are equally applicable to prisoners dealt with under section B, provided they do not conflict with the rules governing that category of women and are for their benefit;
Part 3 - Non-custodial Sanctions and Measures apply to women offenders who have committed petty offences and whose physical condition makes imprisonment inappropriate or inadvisable. These women include young female offenders and pregnant women who are covered under Section 2 of the Rules from the time of investigation through to post-sentencing.
Part 4 - Research, Planning, Evaluation and Public Awareness aims to encourage research into the behavior of women that often lead to their becoming offenders. This may include the impact of imprisonment of their mother or both parents on the physical and psychological development of children. In addition, there needs to be activities that will reduce the possibility of repeated offences which is a part of rehabilitation. Knowledge of these activities should be made known to the public with the help of mass-media agencies.
Thailand and the Bangkok Rules
The road towards the inauguration of UN Bangkok Rules originated under the strong royal patronage and leadership of HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha who has a keen interest in women and children involved in the Thai criminal justice system. Her desire to push forward the UN Bangkok Rules started when she visited female prisoners and children with mothers at the Central Women Correctional Institute in Bangkok in July 2001 and witnessed those women’s deprived lives behind bars. Her strong inspiration to help this specific group of women and children was carried out through various projects under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice of Thailand.
The Kamlangjai Project, literally translated from Thai as ‘inspire’, was the first project launched on the 31st October 2006. The project aims to provide moral support,basic healthcare, and opportunities for women prisoners in Thailand, both while serving sentences and after their release, with a view to returning them back to society as good citizens, minimizing their chance of re-offending, and raising public awareness about giving a second chance to female ex-offenders.
In 2008, Thailand presented the Kamlangjai Project at the 17th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) in Vienna; the level of support from
various countries was encouraging. With the outstanding success of the existing Kamlangjai Project, the Ministry of Justice of Thailand launched another project, namely,
Enhancing Lives of Female Inmates, also known as ‘ELFI’. The main task of ELFI is to augment the wisdom of what would later become the Bangkok Rules, by developing a set of
rules specific to the treatment of women prisoners which aims to narrow the gap of negligence so that the specific needs of women prisoners can be appropriately addressed.
Ultimately, the successful establishment of both the Kamlangjai and the ELFI projects, coupled with HRH Princess’s willful determination and her lead support in the advancement for the livelihood of the women prisoners and offenders worldwide, the provision on the treatment of women prisoners was drafted by an international expert group and brought to UN’s consideration. Finally, the United Nations General Assembly at its 65th session adopted the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders in December 2010. The name ‘Bangkok Rules’ given was to honor Thailand which strongly reinforced the rules to the UN’s recognition.
Timeline Bangkok Rules
October 2006 - The Kamlangjai Project
The Kamlangjai Project (or the Inspire Project) was initiated by Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol in 2006 to provide support to women prisoners in Thailand particularly pregnant women and children living with their mother in prison. The project aims at providing women prisoners with moral support, basic healthcare, as well as opportunities while serving sentences and after release. Piloted at the Central Women Correctional Institution in Thailand, the Project has continued to expand to institutions in various parts of the country. Its main goal is to give a helping hand to women prisoners as well as advocate for an open-minded and inclusive society.
To raise awareness about this issue, Thailand presented the principle and activities under the Inspire Project to the 17th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna in 2008 and it was well received by the international community.
2008 - The Enhancing Lives of Female Inmates Project (ELFI)
After the success of the Inspire Project at the domestic level, the Ministry of Justice of Thailand initiated the Enhancing Lives of Female Inmates Project (ELFI) in 2008 to internationally advocate and lobby for a worldwide policy change regarding treatments of women prisoners. The ELFI Project aimed to propose supplementary rules to the 1955 UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), particularly on the issues of women prisoners and their specific needs as well as the use of non-custodial measures for women offenders as the extension of the 1990 UN Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (The Tokyo Rules).
To raise awareness about the issues related to women prisoners and seek international support for the global policy change, the ELFI idea was presented at several international forums such as the 12th Asia Crime Prevention Foundation’s World Conference on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the 10th Annual Conference of the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) in Prague, Czech Republic, and the 2009 American Society of Criminology Conference in Pennsylvania, USA.
February 2009 - The International Roundtable Experts Meeting
In addition to the awareness raising activities, Thailand initiated substantive preparation with the aim to set a foundation for the development of the international guideline on the treatment of women prisoners and women offenders. During 2-4 February 2009, the Government of Thailand convened the International Roundtable Experts Meeting in Bangkok to develop a well-rounded, comprehensive and integrated guideline for the treatment of women prisoners and women offenders. Attended by experts on criminology from different regions around the world, representatives from NGOs and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the meeting used the structure and framework of SMR combined with existing research and good practices related to women prisoners and offenders. As a result, the initial draft rules on the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders was completed.
Following the Meeting, Thailand made presentations to several Regional Preparatory Meetings for the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to expand support of the initiative including the Latin and Caribbean meeting in May, 2009; the Western Asian meeting in June, 2009; the Asian and Pacific meeting in July, 2009; and the African meeting in September, 2009.
April 2009 – the18th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
In order to promote a formal discussion and consideration on the international rules for the treatment of women prisoners and women offenders within the UN system, Thailand proposed the resolution 18/1 entitled “Supplementary Rules Specific to the Treatment of Women in Detention and in Custodial and Non-Custodial Setting” to the 18th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (Vienna, 16-24 April 2009). With the adoption of this resolution, the Commission requested UNODC to convene an open-ended intergovernmental expert group meeting, with Thailand as a host country, to develop supplementary rules specific to the treatment of women in detention and in custodial and non-custodial settings. The expert group meeting was requested to draw upon the results of the work of the expert round-table meeting held in Bangkok in February 2009 and submit the outcome of its work to the 12th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, to be held in Salvador in April 2010.
November 2009 - Intergovernmental Expert Group Meeting to review and finalize the Draft Rules
Following UN protocol, Thailand then hosted the Open-ended Intergovernmental Expert Group Meeting from 23-26 November 2009 in Bangkok, representing over 25 countries to closely review the draft United Nations rules on the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders. After comprehensive discussion and careful consideration, the meeting finally reached the agreement on the final text of the draft rules comprising 70 provisions under 4 areas namely: General Application, Special Categories, Non-Custodial Measures, and Research, Planning, Evaluation, Public awareness-raising. The agreed draft rules represented a culmination of best policies and practices on women prisoners that had been developed in various countries and by many international organizations with the belief that this is a sustainable guarantee for women prisoners around the world.
April 2010 – the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice
The Draft Rules was then presented to12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice during 12-19 April 2010 in Salvador, Brazil. Through strong support from various member states, the Draft Rules were recognized and welcomed in the Salvador Declaration which is an outcome document representing political commitment of UN member countries towards crime prevention and criminal justice.
“We welcome the draft United Nations rules for the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders. Taking note of the outcome and the recommendations of the meeting of the expert group to develop supplementary rules specific to the treatment of women in detention and in custodial and non-custodial settings, we recommend that the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice consider them as a matter of priority for appropriate action.” (Paragraph 50 of the Salvador Declaration)
May 2010 – 19th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ)
After the 12th UN Congress Thailand presented a follow-up draft resolution to the 19th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) which was held in Vienna, Austria from 17 – 21 May, 2010. The draft resolution titled “United Nations rules for the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders (the Bangkok Rules)” aimed for the UN General Assembly to consider and formally adopt the Draft Rules. Finally, the draft resolution including the Draft Rules, as its annex, were approved by the 19th session of CCPCJ with very few changes. In addition, seven Member States agreed to co-sponsor the resolution including Indonesia, the Philippines, the United States, Canada, Venezuela, El Salvador, and Cote d`Ivoire.
July 2010 – The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
In 2010, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held its annual conference between 28 June – 22 July in New York. The General Segment of the ECOSOC took place from 16 – 22 July to consider the work of its functional commissions including the conference report from 19th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ) which contained the various agreed resolutions. Among these was the “United Nations rules for the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders (the Bangkok Rules)”. ECOSOC accepted the resolution on 22 July, 2010 and recommended that the resolution be considered for adoption by the upcoming 65th Session of the General Assembly.
December 2010 - the 65th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)
The final step for ELFI was the 65th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York which commenced on Tuesday 14 September, 2010 and finished in the third week of December, 2010 (approximately three months). The 65th UNGA was the last strategic link in the ELFI process as this was the forum that would formally adopt the Bangkok Rules. The Third Committee adopted Thailand’s draft resolution on 14 October, 2010. Finally, on 21 December, 2010 the United Nations General Assembly adopted “the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non - custodial Measures for Women Offenders” and had given it an unofficial title, “the Bangkok Rules”