Prisoners’ Rights In Jeopardy

Prisoners’ Rights In Jeopardy

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control“. Rights are those which a human being is entitled to or allowed – freedoms that are guaranteed. It is something to which one is entitled to by virtue of being human. The fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. John Locke opined that natural rights are inalienable.

The Madina Charter stated, “In case of war with anybody, the Muslims will redeem their prisoners with kindness and justice“. In addition to this the noble Quran says,”And they feed for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan and the captive, (saying) ‘We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks“. From this it is inferred that prisoners were to be treated respectably and were granted rights in the history of Islam. Since that time Ayatollahs have done little to claim the rights of the prisoners – yet when the governments make statutes for this, they will continue to protest claiming the statutes to be against the essence of Islam.

The conditions of jail premises in Pakistan are worth mentioning. Jails are considered as correctional facilities for criminals. Prisons are defined as places properly equipped and arranged for the reception of prisoners. The basic purpose of jails was based on the principle of reformation of criminals. But that is not so in the domestic jails of Pakistan. The prisoners are deprived of even basic necessities. They don’t have access to hygienic food, clean water, medical care, proper washrooms or a healthy environment. Unhygienic food also leads to an increase in hunger strikes. If prisoners fall under the custody of the state, then the state is entrusted with ensuring their health and lives.

Prisons are also very overcrowded which makes this atmosphere more crucial. They are victims to brutal punishment and wicked behaviour of the jail staff. The Prisons Act of Pakistan and international humanitarian law has never come to the rescue of their rights. The UN Convention Against Torture has made proclamations against torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment, in order to monitor and promote health rights of prisoners at the international and domestic levels. According to this Convention, the prevention of torture is considered jus cogens yet prisoners are tortured in an extra-judicial manner. “Women in jails all around the world are at risk of rape, sexual assault and torture” as reported by Quaker UN Office – Human Rights and Refugees publication. In a male dominated society like Pakistan, women are considered inferior to men and lack socio-economic security. 80% of women prisoners are raped by the police in lock-ups. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto prohibited the police to keep women overnight in custody, but that has not been the practice. 60% of women are mothers of little children which affects them very negatively in the jail premises. It also causes them to feel loneliness and anxiety. According to the International Criminal Court, rule of law must be followed and applied irrespective of race, creed, religion and sex.

The Federal Bureau of Prisoners in USA has provided facilities like education, gyms and medical care to their prisoners. Norway has the most luxurious and humane prisons in the world. Security prisons colony on Bastoy Island in the middle of Oslofjord provides its prisoners with the facilities of sunbathing, tennis, fishing and horse riding, which are the preferred pastimes of the prisons. In Pakistan, libraries must be introduced in jails for raising awareness through reading books. Opportunities to education are important but remain abysmally low in Pakistan. Education will play a key role in the reformatory process. Access to hygienic food, clean water and medical care should also be ensured while opportunities for gaming and healthy exercises would keep the prisoners from having to face depression and anxiety. Prisoners in domestic jails of Pakistan are fighting an uphill battle at the moment.

The French Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizens (1789) states, “Every society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured or separation of powers not determined has no constitution at all“. Laws have been made for protection but the government has failed to implement them. Domestic laws governing prisoners should be formulated in accordance with international conventions and protocols. Statutes are to be revolutionized in Pakistan if we have to quest for the well being of the nation.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which he might be associated.

Usama Saleem Dogar

Author: Usama Saleem Dogar

The writer is a student of Shariah and Law at International Islamic University Islamabad and has keen interest in political science, history and literature. He is a social activist and has served with many NGOs, including the British Council, in promoting human rights. He was also the National Coordinator for Education and Human Rights at the National Youth Assembly.