Amnesty International has hailed the adoption of the 'Mandela Rules', which could herald a new era of respect for prisoners' human rights worldwide.
Adopted by the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice during a meeting in Vienna, Italy, the Mandela Rules are crucial revisions of the UN's standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, which date back to 1955.
The rules now contain an expanded section of basic principles, including the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Amnesty International Legal Adviser Yuval Ginbar said: "The rules, if fully implemented, would help turn imprisonment from a wasted time of suffering and humiliation into one used for personal development leading to release, to the benefit of society as a whole."
The newly adopted standards ensure the independence of healthcare staff, and also place extensive restrictions on disciplinary measures, including the prohibition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days.
In addition, clear and detailed instructions are provided on issues, such as cell and body searches, registration and record keeping, investigations into deaths and complaints of torture and other ill-treatment, the requirements of specific groups, independent inspections of prisons, as well as the right to legal representation among other issues.
UN Office on Drugs and Crime head Yury Fedotov said: "Most importantly, the rules stress that prisoners will be protected from torture and other cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
"This means the rules probably represent one of the most significant human rights advances in recent years."
Amnesty, which joined a coalition of NGOs and academics which took an active part in the five-year process of progressive redrafting of the rules, urged on all states to study the standards and implement them fully in law, policy and practise.
The Mandela Rules are expected to be adopted by the UN General Assembly later this year.
Image: The Mandela Rules have been named to honour the legacy of the late South African President, Nelson Mandela. Photo: courtesy of South Africa The Good News.