Press Release

IACHR Deplores Deaths in Fire in Honduras Prison

February 15, 2012

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) deplores the deaths of inmates in a fire at a prison in Comayagua, in Honduras. The IACHR urgently calls on the State to adopt the necessary measures to duly investigate these events and prevent them from happening again.

The Honduran authorities informed that 356 persons are presumed dead. The Inter-American Commission expresses solidarity with the families of the inmates who died and with those who were injured. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to take appropriate measures to identify the persons who died in this tragedy and to provide quick and accurate information on the identities of the prisoners who lost their lives in the fire and the specific circumstances and causes of their deaths. The Commission also urges the State to inform the relatives of the injured inmates about their current medical condition and to provide timely information to the relatives of prisoners who may be transferred to medical centers, or to other prison facilities.

The IACHR calls to mind that the State is in a special position of guarantor when it comes to the rights of persons deprived of liberty. This means that the act of incarceration implies a specific and real commitment by the State to guarantee the conditions required under international standards to safeguard the life and humane treatment of those who are incarcerated. This obligation to guarantee implies that the State must take all necessary measures to prevent situations of risk, such as this one, that may pose serious threats to the fundamental rights of those in custody.

Along these lines, the States have the obligation to ensure that prisons have adequate, safe structures and the appropriate measures, action plans, and sufficient, trained staff in place to maintain security in its prisons and to handle these types of emergency situations. The IACHR believes that prison overcrowding not only constitutes in itself a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, but is a factor that jeopardizes the life and personal integrity of those who are incarcerated in a particular facility. Thus is it imperative for the national authorities to take all measures that may be necessary to ensure that prisons do not hold more inmates than they are equipped to house based on their real capacity.

In addition, States have the obligation to investigate, on its own initiative and with due diligence, all deaths of persons under its custody. These investigations must not only aim to establish the material perpetrators of the crimes, but also the possible intellectual authors, and any degree of responsibility that the authorities might have, either by action or omission. In this line, the IACHR urges the State of Honduras to launch the criminal, administrative and disciplinary investigations necessary to determine responsibilities and sanction those responsible. The Commission also urges the State to urgently adopt all measures necessary to avoid the repetition of similar situations.

On February 28 and 29, the IACHR will participate in a hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights about Case 12.680, which is related to the death of 107 persons deprived of liberty in a fire that took place on May 17, 2004, in the prison of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. In the Merits Report on this case, the Inter-American Commission concluded that these deaths were the direct result of a series of structural deficiencies, which were known by the competent authorities, but that were neither attended nor corrected in a timely manner.

In the letter of submission of the case to the IA Court HR, on March 11, 2011, the Inter-American Commission said: “The facts relating to this case are ultimately a result of the Honduran prison system’s structural deficiencies, which have been widely documented by United Nations mechanisms, such as the Subcommittee against Torture and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, which have carried out missions to Honduras, and have noted such shortcomings and made recommendations to the State”. The case was sent to the IA Court HR because the State has not undertaken the investigation of the acts denounced and punishment of those responsible.

The Inter-American Commission today decided to urgently request the conduct of a visit to Honduras in order to follow-up on the fire in the prison in Comayagua and on the situation of human rights of the persons deprived of liberty in the country. In addition, the IACHR will conduct a hearing on this situation in the next Period of Sessions, to be held March 19-30, 2012.

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 area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 19/12