Implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules in Thailand

18 July 2016

      Thailand’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ)jointly launched the pilot project on the implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules at Thonburi Remand Prison.


      The launch event took place on 18 July which is announced every year as the Nelson Mandela International Day – the day Nelson Mandela was born – by the United Nations in honor of the former South African President Nelson Mandela.


      The Mandela Rules are the revision of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, firstly adopted by the Economic and Social Council in 1957, in the attempt to improve and updatethe rules with advancement in correctional sciences, best practices and all relevant current situations in prison management.


      In the past, the UN rules, recommendations and guidelines were widely regarded as‘a paper tiger’ or in some cases as ‘all-talk-but-no-action’process because they were not actually implemented although the rules were written andonly some partiesdid try to comply. As such, the cooperation between Thailand’s DOCand TIJ in running the pilot prison implementing the Mandela Rules is a crucialstepin introducing the proper treatment of prisoners in accordance with the humanitarian principles.


      Dr. NatheeChitsawang, the TIJ expert on the Mandela Rules implementation noted that “the implementation of the pilot prison conforming to the Mandela Rules at Thonburi Remand Prison is our first effort to show other prisons that the project is not out of reach. These rules are neither theoretical nor western standards which we cannot achieve. This pilot scheme can be a showcase to let all correctional facilities realize that they can do it despite many limitations in terms of budget, personnel and attitudes of staff and society”.


      However,it is worth mentioning that this event on Nelson Mandela International Day is a declaration by the prison itself to implement the Mandela Rules, it does not exactly mean that Thonburi Remand Prison becomes pilot prisonbecause of their achievement in being in line with all the rules completely.


     "We will take about one year from now on to develop Thonburi Remand Prison as a pilot prison of Nelson Mandela Rules," said YossaponSutham, Thonburi Remand Prison Superintendent. “We will develop our prison step by step under the concept “developing from one prison unit to another; and developing on one agenda to another”, because the prison has large area, several prison units and many inmates, so in order to change the prison system is a matter of time and the budget.


      However, the budget, facility and building matters do not seem to be difficult to steering to the Mandela Rules pilot prison. What Dr. NatheeChitsawang is concerned about is the attitudes of correctional officers and of society."The attitude of correctional officials is important for the successful implementation of the Mandela Rules. It must be acknowledged by the correctional staff first if they have negative attitudes towards the prisoners on rehabilitation and the prisoner's rights protection. This is because some officers consider that the Rules make their work more difficult, the application of the Mandela Rules is, as a result, difficult. Thus changing attitudes towards the Mandela' Rules must be prioritized to adjust in this regard".


      Dr. NatheeChitsawang discusses on steering towards the Mandela Rules that it uses realistic approach led by exchanging study visits between prisons in the project. This will make it possible to remember what is being followed for Good Practice from one place to another, and it boosts competition in good services delivery and cooperation in technical and knowledge exchange among prisons. After that, there will be seminars and prizes to inspire officers in implementing the Mandela Rules. It is important to ensure the correctional officers that compliance with UN standards brings in a better standard of work and easier to follow the prison system and procedures.


      "We look forward to extending the pilot project to other prisons nationwide depending on the condition of each prison. At the same time, the support of the adoption of Mandela Rules to other countries especially in ASEAN countries through sharing knowledge and learning for altogether development is the aim because the countries in ASEAN have commonality in many dimensions. Learning together is therefore very beneficial" said Dr. NatheeChitsawang.


      It is important to comply with the Mandela Rules not because of being able to completely comply with the various requirements, but it is more important that prisons have competency to response to the objective in returning prisoners to community, which is the major goal of correctional work.



                                                                                                                                          Reported by Thongchai