Press Release

IACHR Deplores Violent Deaths in Venezuelan Prison

June 16, 2011

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the violent death of 19 inmates at the Capital Rodeo I Judicial Confinement Center, in the Venezuelan state of Miranda. It urges the State of Venezuela to take concrete steps to protect the life and physical integrity of persons deprived of liberty.

According to the information the Commission has received, on June 12, 2011, 19 prisoners died and 25 were seriously injured as a result of a clash among inmates at the Capital Rodeo I Judicial Confinement Center. These events reportedly took place in the context of a fight between rival gangs for internal control of the prison. According to the information received, the inmates allegedly assaulted each other with firearms.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights handed down provisional measures with respect to the Capital Rodeo I Judicial Confinement Center on February 8, 2008, ordering the State to adopt the provisional measures necessary to protect the life and personal integrity of everyone confined in the prison, especially in order to prevent injuries and violent deaths. This decision, which was ratified by the Court in an order dated November 24, 2009, is one of seven provisional measures in effect that have been ordered by the Inter-American Court with respect to persons deprived of liberty in Venezuela.

The inter-American system for the protection of human rights has been following the troubling situation of persons deprived of liberty in Venezuela using all available mechanisms. Along these lines, the IACHR has held five thematic hearings in which information has been provided about the high rates of prison violence in penitentiaries controlled by criminal organizations and not by the State; the inmates' possession of weapons of different calibers, including automatic weapons and shotguns, as well as explosives, which they allegedly would obtain with the help of the National Guard; the practice of charging inmates an extortion fee known as a causa, which is divided among the criminal gangs that control the prisons, the civil authority, and the military authorities who guard the outside; the serious conditions of overcrowding and lack of medical care; and the procedural backlog in handling criminal cases.

According to information provided at the hearing held during the Commission's most recent 141st session, 476 inmates reportedly died in 2010 and another 967 were injured. From 1999 to 2010, a total of 4,506 inmates reportedly died and 12,518 were injured. In its report Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, the IACHR discusses violence in prisons in Chapter VI and indicated that "the State has failed to adopt an effective policy to prevent violence within its detention centers" and that "Venezuelan prisons are the most violent in the region."

In six press releases issued by the IACHR in 2009 and 2010 having to do with acts of violence in Venezuelan prisons, the Commission has reminded the Venezuelan State of its obligation to adopt the necessary measures to protect the life and physical integrity of those deprived of liberty, which includes protection from attacks by third parties, such as other inmates.

The IACHR reiterates once again that States have the responsibility to adopt security measures to protect the individuals subject to their jurisdiction, an obligation that is even clearer when it comes to persons deprived of liberty, given the State's special position as guarantor. Consequently, the State not only must ensure that its own agents do not directly commit attacks against the life or physical integrity of those in custody, but it must also adopt the necessary measures to protect prisoners from possible attacks by third parties, including other prisoners.

The States especially have the fundamental obligation to ensure the control and internal security of prisons, and must in no way abandon this inherent duty. Proper control by the authorities of internal order inside prisons is a necessary assumption to guarantee the human rights of persons deprived of liberty.

The IACHR urges the Venezuelan State to take steps that would have an immediate impact on the grave situation of risk faced by persons deprived of liberty. The concrete measures that both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have indicated to Venezuela on various occasions include: (a) reducing prison overpopulation and overcrowding; (b) confiscating and preventing the entry of weapons and illicit substances into prisons; (c) establishing effective systems to guarantee a separation between those being prosecuted and those who have been convicted; (d) staffing prisons with enough security guards who are trained and given the necessary means to properly carry out their duties; and (e) conducting serious, effective investigations into acts of violence inside prisons.

The IACHR also urges the State to immediately adopt any necessary measures to bring detention conditions in Venezuelan prisons in line with international standards, and to take immediate steps, in addition to any medium- or long-term plans, to guarantee the life and personal integrity of persons deprived of liberty in Venezuela.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.


No. 57/11