Press Release

IACHR Deplores Death of 25 Persons at the Yare Prison, State of Miranda, Venezuela

August 24, 2012

Washington D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the violent deaths of at least 25 persons at the Capital Region Penitentiary Center ("Yare Prison") in the state of Miranda, Venezuela. The IACHR calls upon the State to continue and to strengthen the measures undertaken with the aim of preventing the repetition of tragedies like this.

According to public information, on August 19, 2012 there was a clash between gangs at the Yare I prison, in which at least 25 people (24 inmates and one civilian visitor) lost their lives and another 45 people were injured. The information received indicates that prisoners involved in the dispute used high caliber firearms and even explosives. These acts of violence occurred during the Sunday family visiting time.

The Commission emphasizes the importance of the authorities’ efforts to rapidly identify the persons who lost their lives, which resulted in the publication of the identity of 25 fatal victims, despite the difficulties encountered in this process.

Furthermore, the Commission is concerned about the recurrence of such incidents in the Yare prison, where, according to information received by the Commission, between January and June of this year 19 inmates lost their lives and 48 people were injured in various incidents of violence. According to available information, the Yare I prison, with a capacity for 750 inmates, currently houses 3,150 people. The Commission is aware of the efforts undertaken by the State in order to solve the serious problem of overcrowding and encourages the authorities to continue, to strengthen and to speed up these efforts.

The Commission insists that the provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the protection of persons deprived of liberty in the Yare prison be carried out in all their terms. In these measures, in force since March 2006, the Inter-American Court stated that: “States are under a duty to take immediate action to guarantee the physical, mental and moral integrity of inmates, as well as their right to life and the right to decent living conditions,” and it resolved to “call upon the State to immediately adopt such measures as may be required to efficiently and conclusively prevent violence at the Yare Prison, in order that no inmate or any other person at said facility is killed or their personal integrity impaired.”

The States, as guarantor of the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, must adopt all necessary measures to protect the life and physical integrity of prison inmates. Along these lines, States have the fundamental obligation to ensure the control and internal security of prisons, and must in no way abandon this inherent duty. The proper control by the authorities of internal order of the prisons is essential for the protection of all human rights of persons deprived of their liberty.

The State, as guarantor of the fundamental rights of the persons deprived of liberty, has the unavoidable legal duty to take concrete actions to ensure the rights to life and to humane treatment of prisoners, particularly measures to prevent and control outbreaks of violence in prisons. This obligation exists not only in relation to actions of the State itself, but also in relation to actions by third parties. The proper control by the authorities of the internal order in prisons is the necessary precondition to guarantee the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty. In this regard, States have a fundamental duty to ensure control and internal security of prisons and cannot in any way waive this inherent duty by limiting itself to the external custody of the prison’s perimeter.

In addition to the situation in the Yare prison, the Commission expresses its concern at the high levels of violence in other prisons in Venezuela and the possession of firearms and explosives by criminal organizations inside several prisons. According to information received by the Commission during the first half of 2012, 304 prisoners have been killed and another 572 have been injured in different acts of violence in Venezuela's prisons.

In this regard, the Commission acknowledges the announcement by the Minister of Correctional Services of Venezuela, Iris Varela, that the authorities are determined to disarm inmates at the Yare prison. The Commission considers that the disarmament of the prison population and the effective control of the entry of weapons in all penitentiary centers are measures that must be undertaken immediately to reduce the rates of prison violence and to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.

The IACHR urges the Venezuelan State to investigate the acts of violence in the Yare I prison, punish those responsible and take measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents. The State has the duty to investigate and punish those responsible for the entry of weapons and ammunition that end up in the hands of inmates.

The Commission reiterates its readiness to cooperate with the government of Venezuela in the task of protecting the human rights of all people and ensuring compliance with its international responsibility to protect and guarantee human rights.

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. 106/12