Worldwide Efforts to Focus on Detainees’ Rights

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) worldwide have taken action to improve guarantees for the rights of detainees in response to the Dignity and Justice for Detainees initiative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The 9th International Conference of National Human Rights Insitutions held in Nairobi, Kenya, in late October. © Kenya National Human Rights CommissionThey included visits to detention centres, workshops and conferences on the rights of detainees, media programs and other forms of awareness raising activities, training sessions for teachers and law enforcement officers, human rights publications, and advocacy for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (OPCAT).

This relatively new Optional Protocol, which entered into force in 2006, helps prevent torture and ill-treatment by requiring the establishment of a national-level system of regular visits to all places of detention by independent experts.


NHRI Representatives reported on these activities as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 60) during the 9th International Conference of NHRIs in Nairobi, Kenya, in late October.

Among others, NHRI representatives from England and Wales, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Maldives, Mongolia, Rwanda, Scotland, South Korea, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Togo, Uganda, Uzbekistan and Venezuela shared with Conference participants their activities during the Dignity and Justice for Detainees week and beyond.

Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang pointed out that the theme of the 9th International Conference of NHRIs – the role of NHRIs in the administration of justice – took on a particular significance in the UDHR 60 context.

“The administration of justice is a central tenet of the Universal Declaration, which enshrines the right to equality before the law, to the presumption of innocence, to a fair trial, and to freedom from arbitrary detention, torture and degrading treatment,” the Deputy High Commissioner told conference participants.

“Many NHRIs also have a mandate to visit prisons and places of detention, monitor the situation of prisoners, and interview detainees. The challenge however is to broaden the number of NHRIs that can have unannounced access to detention facilities and to make sure that NHRIs are able to focus on particularly vulnerable groups of detainees, including women, juveniles, minorities, and migrants,” she said.

As part of the UDHR 60 commemoration, OHCHR has embarked on a wide range of activities to increase public awareness of the Declaration. Among others, it designated 6 -12 October as the Dignity and Justice for Detainees Week to draw attention to the rights of people who are deprived of their liberty.

OHCHR is also funding projects by a number of NHRIs to raise the issue of detainees’ rights. They include workshops on the rights of detainees, human rights training for prison wardens, and publicity campaigns to enhance awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights among detainees, law enforcement and judicial officers, and the general public.

November 2008