Protecting the Right to Human Dignity in Prisons

Source: 26 August 2019Human Rights

Executive Summary

The right to human dignity is one of the fundamental rights afforded to a human being by virtue of being human irrespective of nationality, race, gender, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Human dignity is a universal concept referred to in Zimbabwe’s Constitution. At international law level, there are a number of instruments that protect the right to a prisoner’s human dignity. These include the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the Mandela Rules) and the Bangkok Rules. Zimbabwe is bound by the above cited international instruments. Thus, the State has an obligation to ensure that prisoners are treated in a manner that respects their human dignity. These obligations have been domesticated by means of certain provisions that are entrenched in the Zimbabwean Declaration of Rights (Chapter 4 of the Constitution). Section 512 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognises the right of every person to have their human dignity respected and protected regardless of their circumstance. People who are convicted of crimes are also entitled to have their dignity respected and protected in terms of Section 51 of the Constitution.

The right to dignity for prisoners entails that citizens are to be treated humanely even when they are in detention. It recognises that incarcerated people are valuable and deserve to be treated with dignity. The right to human dignity entails absolute prohibition of torture, provision of adequate material conditions (including sufficient food, water and access to healthcare), security of prisoners in detention and operating fair and just rules and procedures, which do not discriminate, but rather promote respectful relations between staff and detainees. This policy brief will discuss how the right to dignity in prisons is being respected and implemented in Zimbabwe’s prisons.

Source: Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU)

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