A Proposal for Establishing “The International Day of Prisoners’ Rights”
by Emadeddin Baghi (Iran), Laureate of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders 2009
There are currently various international days commemorating issues such as Human Rights, Freedom of the Press, combating HIV/AIDS, etc. There is no such commemoration for prisoners, although prisons and prisoners are the issues that have much older history than many other concerns. In all societies, prisons and the treatment of prisoners are among the major human rights issues. The way prisoners are treated is a clear indicator of observance and/or violation of human rights.
Dedicating a special day to prisoners’ rights would have the advantage of raising public awareness through the media on a specific day at a global scale. Experience shows that institutions and media working on a special theme are able to mobilize more resources on a specific day named after their cause. Support can be given to articles, books, artistic products, institutions, NGOs and persons dealing with the subject of prisoners’ rights.
On this day, attention should focus on prison staff and guards as the people who are in direct contact with prisoners. Simply punishing and rebuking prison staff does not encourage them to observe prisoners’ rights. Accordingly, prison staff who are reported by prisoners and human rights institutions as having worked appropriately to observe prisoners’ rights and promote human dignity should receive and awarded on the International Day for Prisoners’ Rights. This can create a constructive competition amongst prison staffs for observing the rights of prisoners. Even in countries accused of violating human rights this should be welcomed by States because they cannot really disagree with donations to prison staff who observe the rights of prisoners. This donation is given to a Government employee, not a dissident. This is exactly the reason why I proposed it in Iran and some of the political prisoners with heavy sentences called me and expressed their appreciation and nominated some of the prison guards to encourage them.
As date, I myself suggest the 5th of March as on this day in 1897 one of the most prominent Persian social and political activists and one of the first supporters of human rights in its modern sense in the region, Seyed Jamalodin Assadabadi, was killed in an Ottoman prison deprived of all his legal and human rights. However, I leave it up to the various organizations to propose and develop this idea at an international level.
I hope that one day all the human rights organizations worldwide, NGOs and the media will mobilize their efforts to report on events inside prisons and denounce violations. The rights of prisoners will benefit.