A Brief Discussion on Prison Inmates' Right to Human Dignity
October 27,2014   By:CSHRS

FENG Jiancang


Human dignity is in essence the foregrounding of people themselves, in their treatment as human beings. It is evident that denial of human dignity is equivalent to a negation of humanity itself. Thus, human dignity is an inalienable, unlimited right. If there is one exception to rights that have no boundaries in this world, then it is the right to human dignity. The professed adage, "A man may be killed but should never be insulted," suggests a person's dignity has to be respected even if he or she is a criminal, and even during the legal resort to capital punishment. As prison inmates are deprived of their personal freedom by law, with their other rights limited or suspended, it is all the more vital to protect the human dignity of those who constitute such a distinct group of people. This helps to protect their own rights as well as to remedy past deeds, thus advancing social civilization and the legal process.

1. Multifaceted Foundation already Enacted to Guarantee Prisoners' Right to Human Dignity in China

On the legal perspective, China's Prison Law states in its seventh article: "Human dignity of a prisoner shall not be humiliated, and his personal safety, lawful properties, and rights to defense, petition, complaint and accusation as well as other rights which have not been deprived of or restricted according to law shall not be violated." This article in the General Provisions is proclaimed as a guideline of Prison Law for protecting inmates' rights. Meanwhile, related articles in other chapters of this law stipulate the contents of basic rights for prisoners. These rights are defined by law and protected as much as possible in practice through various measures. To prevent prison officers from violating inmates' rights, China has spelled out the obligations and discipline for prison officers in articles 13 and 14 of this law. In addition, inmates' rights have been specified from various perspectives in such laws as the Constitution, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, People's Police Law and Law on State Compensation, as well as some administrative regulations or those issued by the Ministry of Justice. All these can serve as a legal basis for protecting inmates' basic rights, including their right to human dignity. Since its first white paper on human rights issued in 1991, China has published a series of white papers concerning its progress in and protection of human rights. The rights protection for inmates, a special disadvantaged group in society, is certainly contained in those white papers. China presented to the world in its 1992 white paper Criminal Reform in China, "In the actual practice of criminal reform, China pays close attention to implementing the principles of humanitarianism. Criminals are not only provided with proper living conditions, but their human dignity is also respected. The humiliating of prisoners is forbidden." In 2004, the 10th National People's Congress at its second session passed an amendment to the Constitution. That "the country respects and protects human rights" is included into the 33rd article of this amendment, becoming one of China's major steps toward constitutionalism.