Press Release

International actors gather with Ministry of Justice and UNODC in Kyiv to support action on Ukraine prison crisis

27 June 2023

Kyiv, Ukraine, 21 June 2023 – On 21 June 2023 representatives from 18 UN Member States came together with international organizations in Kyiv to discuss the unprecedented challenges facing Ukraine’s prison and probation services, in an event organized by the Ministry of Justice and supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Caption: 21 June 2023, Kyiv, Ukraine


Ukraine’s prisons have been badly affected by the war, with extensive damage suffered. There are severe ongoing challenges, including struggles to ensure safety and security, meet prisoners’ basic needs and manage the evacuation of thousands of prisoners from conflict-affected regions, as well as vulnerability to further crisis. The safety and security of prisons impacts the safety and security of society outside prison walls.

At the forum the Minister of Justice, Mr Denis Malyuska, pointed to the positive path Ukraine’s prisons had been on before the war. “This Forum proved to Ukrainians and the whole world that the Ukrainian penitentiary system is changing. We have travelled a difficult path from the Soviet past to observing the rights of prisoners according to international standards, but have made important progress. There are still many challenges ahead during these difficult times and the support and unity of our partners, both in Ukraine and across the international community, is essential to overcome them.

His comments made it clear that while the need for immediate assistance in prisons is immense, support focused on bolstering resilience and ongoing reform is equally essential. The Ministry of Justice continues to be strongly committed to fostering a more humane and rehabilitative approach to imprisonment. This forum was a vital step in ensuring that the country’s prisons continue their reform in line with European and international standards, in order to enhance social reintegration prospects and reduce recidivism rates, thereby contributing to public safety.

These standards include the United Nations Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners – also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules – which offer a blueprint for good prison management in the 21st Century. They offer a powerful defence against abuse of prisoners’ rights, and provide the foundation for better prisons that make society safer for all. Ukraine has recently joined the Group of Friends of the Nelson Mandela Rules – a group of 40 Member States and other entities committed to promoting the practical application of the Rules.

Member States attending the Forum shared their commitment to supporting Ukraine's penal system. Mr Ken Saito, Minister of Justice of Japan, said: "I have nothing but respect for Ukraine's strong commitment to penal reform in such difficult times. This will serve as an important foundation to promote the rule of law in the country. At the upcoming G7 Justice Ministers meeting, Japan will work with the G7 and international bodies to assist Ukraine in these efforts."

The role of the United Nations

Attendees of the forum exchanged knowledge and expertise, and forged local and international strategic partnerships to facilitate ongoing action in this vital area. They discussed a proposal developed by the Ministry of Justice and UNODC for a new programme, Penitentiary Assistance in response to the Armed Conflict and Emergency Needs in Ukraine (PACE.UA), which would:

  • Ensure that prison and offender management become part of the humanitarian response
  • Enhance emergency response and crisis preparedness
  • Support longer-term institutional reform efforts in the Ministry of Justice

Discussing PACE.UA, the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Denise Brown, emphasized the UN’s commitment to supporting the penitentiary system’s immediate needs, as well as Ukraine’s ongoing prison and penal reform efforts. “Ukraine’s prisons have been badly affected by the war, with extensive damage and severe ongoing challenges. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has worked with the Ministry of Justice to propose a new programme, PACE.UA, which would address these challenges. We are ready to take action – but we need the support of Member States in order to do so. The Penitentiary Forum offered an opportunity to kick start this essential work.”

The proposed programme is fully aligned with the UN Transitional Framework for Ukraine (2022-23) and its focus on leaving no one behind, social inclusion and human rights. PACE.UA would support the Framework’s priority area 2 (recovery and support in key sectors), which highlights efforts to protect conflict-affected people and civilian infrastructure; and to strengthen national capacities for efficient crisis response and recovery planning, including institutional capacity development.

Mr Denis Malyuska thanked UNODC for their ongoing support. "Allow me to express my sincere gratitude to UNODC, our reliable and valued partner. Their support will continue to be instrumental in addressing our most pressing challenges, driving progress and achieving positive outcomes for our nation.”

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