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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious aspects to the

treatment of prisoners

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Article 18 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all human beings, including prisoners, have certain religious freedoms:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance". (UDHR, 1948)

States within the UN subsequently established their Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The text was adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, (1955-AUG-20) Geneva. It was approved by the UN Economic and Social Council [1957-JUL-31, Resolution 663 C (XXIV) & 1977-MAY-13, Resolution 2076 (LXII)]. It is issued by the UN's Secretariat Centre for Human Rights as UN documen ST/HR?.

Two sections, 41 and 42, relate to religion:

Section 41:

  1. If the institution contains a sufficient number of prisoners of the same religion, a qualified representative of that religion shall be appointed or approved. If the number of prisoners justifies it and conditions permit, the arrangement should be on a full-time basis.
  2. A qualified representative appointed or approved under paragraph (1) shall be allowed to hold regular services and to pay pastoral visits in private to prisoners of his religion at proper times.
  3. Access to a qualified representative of any religion shall not be refused to any prisoner. On the other hand, if any prisoner should object to a visit of any religious representative, his attitude shall be fully respected.

Section 42:

As far as practicable, every prisoner shall be allowed to satisfy the needs of his religious life by attending the services provided in the institution and having in his possession the books of religious observance and instruction of his denomination.

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  1. "Standard mimimum rules..." at: http://diana.law.yale.edu/diana/db/71598-8.html
  2. "Standard mimimum rules..." at: http://www.hri.ca/uninfo/treaties/34.shtml

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