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  • Larissa Ragonesi

Model UN: The Deterioration of Penitentiary Systems in the American Continent

Last Wednesday (09), EABH’s MUN club conducted a Mini MUN simulation. The conference was held in the school's new building, with the presence of 17 delegates and 2 chairs, and was about The Deterioration of Penitentiary Systems in the American Continent.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an intergovernmental body of the UN responsible for promoting, protecting, and addressing situations of human rights violations worldwide. As is well known, prisons exist to protect society by punishing those who commit crimes and go against the law, preventing the spread of crime. The question, however, is: at what point do punishments become inhumane? Prisons around the world often violate certain points established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right to freedom of movement and the right to vote. However, these violations are secondary when compared to often violations of essential rights, such as access to basic sanitation, adequate food and non-degrading clothing.

Latin and Central America are known for their cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of inmates. In February 1997 a conference about the overcrowding of prisons organized by ILANUD, the U.N. Criminal Justice Institute for Latin America, reported a really bad picture of prisons in crisis. Mexico's Capital Human Rights Commission pointed out that most of the country's prisons "lack basic services"; Guatemala’s representative compared his country's prison conditions “against the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Guatemalan Constitution, concluding that neither set of standards was obeyed.”. Another problem listed was corruption and the formation of criminal organizations (i.e., gangs, mafias, etc.). Many commanding criminal organizations, including powerful factions in Brazil, started out as prisoner gangs, so they gained strength and continue to rule large prison populations. The Dominican Republic presented that the bad conditions of their prisons resulted in problems like: “On June 5, 1997, detainees at the Mao prison rioted in protest of poor conditions and corruption, including the reported selling of infirmary cells to healthy prisoners for up to 3,000 pesos (U.S. $231).”

The conference started with every delegate giving their opening speeches, each having one minute to express their first opinions and positions about the topic. This discussion was unique because the delegates were not just countries but also NGOs: the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Amnesty International.

Something that we can see in common among these countries with poor quality prisons is that they are all developing countries. That’s why the NGOs were also represented in this conference, having a really important role in analyzing how those countries can improve prison conditions. The delegate of the United States was the delegate that received most questions and rebates during the first debate part, in which the main topic addressed was the lack of money to ensure the good quality of life within prisons, especially in developing countries. Many countries argued that the United States, due to colonialism, had contributed to worsening conditions in their nations, and that it defended changes it did not practice itself in the first place. In the second part of the discussion, the delegates separated themselves into two groups, one constituted of the developing countries that are fighting to improve their prison situation and the other of the NGOs and more developed countries. The groups, in a 20-minute time period, worked to create a resolution that would be voted on. The resolution made by the group with the NGOs and the more developed countries didn’t pass, while the resolution made by the other group passed with the majority of votes. The document that did pass defended international financial aid to developing countries, commitment to fight organized crime and drug trafficking (which was identified as a major contributor to the rise in crime rates and the overcrowding and violence within prisons), and the compromise by the United States to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Overall, the conference was a success! The delegates will next participate in RioMUN, an out-of-state conference starting on Friday, Nov. 18th. .

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