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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Nelson Mandela rules and the criminal justice system of Pakistan

The discourse on criminal justice reforms in Pakistan is a specialized subject due to the low rate of legal literacy and not very exemplary state of the rule of law. In this context, the Nelson Mandela Rules offer a very useful scheme that separates the categories of prisoners.

18th July is the date of birth of Nelson Mandela, an African leader who spent lot of time in prison during his political struggle. Named after him, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners have been styled, internationally, as the Nelson Mandela Rules. On his birthday, these Rules are discussed and commemorated internationally by the United Nations agencies especially the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC).

This year was no different. The day was celebrated internationally and justice sector practitioners and civil society organizations along with academia held special sessions on discussing its implementation in their countries and regions. In Pakistan, the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) led by Ms. Sarah Belal organized different events. The program by JPP examined the state of implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules to Pakistan. In addition, various other organizations arranged events to underscore the importance of implementing these standards in Pakistan. In this context, it is apposite to systematically approach the subject for policy considerations by justice sector leadership in the country; different aspects can be elucidated under the following themes:

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  1. Internationalization of criminal justice

Legal philosophers like Kelsen and Professor H.L.A Hart of the University of Oxford had historically raised serious ontological questions about international law questioning the very nature of its legal content as it lacked any enforcement and coercive power. This, however, has changed after new developments in international law when the actors in the international arena started acknowledging ‘individuals’ as a subject of international law. Since that time, there has been steady internationalization of criminal justice through soft international law that has nudged states to conform to international standards set, agreed, and advocated by international human rights lawyers.

In this context, one reference is the Compendium of United Nations Standards and Norms in Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice published initially in 1992 and lately in 2016 by the UNODC. The Compendium is a collection of all these standards and norms and is a basic document to refer to find the content on the subject. The whole movement toward the internationalization of criminal justice started in 1955 when the first Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice was organized.

Read more: Reforming the criminal justice system of Islamabad

The purpose of highlighting this point is that while in theory it is believed that every state exercises its sovereignty primarily through criminal law and procedure, there have been consistent efforts by leaders of an international legal order to affect the municipal legal orders. This effort, at an international level, can be evaluated by its impact. In terms of Pakistan’s constitutional scheme, it may be noted that item 32 of the Federal Legislative List in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 obliges the Federal Government to implement international treaties and agreements.

Whether these international treaties include international soft law emanating out of resolutions and declarations of the General Assembly of the United Nations is a question that begs interpretation. Likewise, as Pakistan is a federation where criminal law and criminal justice are in concurrent fields in light of articles 142 and 143 of the Constitution, it is yet to be seen whether prisons and corrections (being provincial entities) can be obliged to implement international minimum standards expounded by international legal instruments, which are less than a full-fledged treaty.

  1. An expansive definition of prison

The discourse on criminal justice reforms in Pakistan is a specialized subject due to the low rate of legal literacy and not very exemplary state of the rule of law. In this context, the Nelson Mandela Rules offer a very useful scheme that separates the categories of prisoners. The categories may be stated here to spur thinking and the expansive visualization of the rules to cover all categories of prisoners.

The Rules are divided into two parts: part I deals with the general rights of prisoners and content standards that must be adhered to in establishing a prison system; part II deals with special categories of prisoners that include: (a) prisoners under sentence, (b) prisoners with mental disabilities/health conditions, (c) prisoners under arrest or awaiting trial (this includes persons arrested by police and persons sent to prison on judicial remand), (d) civil prisoners (very few in Pakistan’s legal system) and (e) persons under detention (see article 10 of the Constitution of Pakistan that envisages a detention regime along with arrest on the criminal side and as per laws related to Punjab Maintenance of Public Order, 1960). Pakistan’s prison and police systems are governed and regulated by provincial governments, therefore, more advocacy at the provincial level is required.

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  1. Special laws

Special laws on juveniles, women and transgender must be brought at par with minimum standards set by the Nelson Mandela Rules. For example, in the Juvenile Justice System Act, 2018, the rehabilitative aspects of juvenile prisoners are not detailed as required under the Nelson Mandela Rules.

The special laws enacted by Provincial and Federal legislatures must try to conform to these standards and link the obligations with funding through budgetary grants to enable implementation as per international norms that are very much in line with humanistic, cultural and religious considerations of people in Pakistan.

Empowering communities through rule of law

The talk on reforms in the criminal justice system is already on the brink as communities are running out of patience and the results are not impressive. In his book titled ‘the End of Policing’, Alex S. Vitale talked about the limits of police reforms. His observation about police reforms is interesting and can be adapted for general discourse on transforming the criminal justice system of Pakistan. He noted:

“Any real agenda for police reform must replace police with empowered communities working to solve their own problems…Communities must directly confront the political, economic, and social arrangements that produce the vast gulfs between the races and the growing gaps between the have and have-nots…”

The empowering of communities, in Pakistan’s context, can best happen by mainstreaming the rule of law. A rule-based order with arbiters of integrity can bring qualitative changes to the criminal justice system. For this, the rule of law must be the guiding principle. The criminal justice system, which is essentially provincial in its orientation must be brought at par in all provinces and the federation should take lead in providing ecology favoring the rule of law as per its obligation under article 143 of the Constitution.

Read more: Police Reforms Movement: Can it strengthen the justice system?

The other limb of empowering communities surely lies with the introduction of a detailed local government system that interacts with the criminal justice system in a collaborative manner. For this, the constitutional imperatives of articles 140-A of the Constitution of Pakistan have been the subject of much adjudication and debate.



Kamran Adil is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General of Punjab police. He studied law at Oxford University and writes and lectures on international law. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.