December 21 marks the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, known as the Rules from Bangkok (Bangkok Rules). Building upon a number of UN Resolutions in the field of human rights protection, these rules particularly emphasized the need to establish global standards in the treatment of women prisoners by the competent authorities. Essentially, the Rules highlight the gender and anti-discrimination aspect, defining the protection of women's rights in certain areas such as prisons to which until then no attention was devoted.
These rules showcased the need to create a fairer and safer environment for women, with an alternative to imprisonment, especially for those who struggle with poverty, violence, mental health or have committed petty offenses. They stand for a society and a state that respects the dignity of women and strives to improve their position in all life situations. Shedding light to the fact that women in prison are usually mothers and primary carers in a family, the Bangkok Rules specify that they as prisoners should be staying close to their homes and remain in contact with their family. Prison health care and hygiene should respond to the specific needs of women, provide them with regular gynecological and specialized examinations as well as with continuous psychological support. Furthermore, prisons should provide for women's basic needs, specific to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, ethnicity and age. Female prison staff, who should have the same opportunities in terms of training and promotion in the workplace as men, as well as safety and security at work should not be disregarded.
Within the general competence in performing the NPM tasks, the Protector of Citizens monitors the treatment of women in criminal justice system and closed type institutions and encourages the changes in practice and in law, including the issue of an alternative to remand/prison. In this regard, over the years the NPM has been pointing out to the negative aspects of the long-term enforcement of detention measures against women, given that, due to the relatively small number, some women while in detention are practically in isolation. Namely, although in the penal sanctions enforcement system, solitary confinement/isolation is a special, disciplinary measure that is strictly time limited, it is a regular manner of execution of detention for some detainees in the current practice. Although the Administration for the Enforcement of Penal Sanctions has undertaken significant activities to improve the material conditions of accommodation of persons deprived of liberty and enhance the institution ‘s capacity, having a new facility built in Požarevac Penitentiary, this still remains a sole Institution accommodating women sentenced to imprisonment, so it is impossible for the institution to be near the prisoner's home, making regular contacts with the family, important for their integration and social inclusion upon their release, more difficult.
Acknowledging the Protector of Citizens’ Opinion on the importance of preventive medical examinations in the Požarevac Penitentiary, this Institution passed the Directive on monitoring the health condition and prevention of diseases of female convicts, which determined the dynamics, scope and content of preventive examinations.
The Protector of Citizens will continue to monitor the treatment of women, as a particularly vulnerable category of persons deprived of liberty, and take activities to step up the situation in this area.