IACHR Presents Report on Persons Deprived of Liberty in Honduras
August 2, 2013
Tegucigalpa, Honduras – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented today in Tegucigalpa its Report on the Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty in Honduras. The IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil, headed the delegation that presented the report to the President of the Republic, Porfirio Lobo; to family members of the victims of the fire at the National Penitentiary of Comayagua; to other high-level State authorities; and to civil society organizations and the people of Honduras, through the media. The report was prepared based on an April 2012 working visit to Honduras by an IACHR delegation led by Rapporteur Escobar Gil, which was carried out with the financial support of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS).
“The prison system in Honduras is dehumanized, miserly, and corrupt. Living conditions in the prisons are completely contrary to human dignity,” said Rapporteur Escobar Gil. “The authorities of the State of Honduras, in all branches of government, must foster a radical change of attitude toward the prison system and react urgently and forcefully to the profound structural crisis the system is undergoing,” added the Commissioner, who held several meetings with State authorities to analyze the report’s conclusions and recommendations.
“There are measures that were adopted following the tragic fire at Comayagua. However, far from the necessary resources being allocated to implement these measures, the budget for this area has been reduced. The State and society have been insensitive to the needs of persons deprived of liberty,” the Rapporteur said. “It is essential that the State take on this crisis in the prison system as one of its priorities, because the system has totally collapsed and as a result, the fundamental rights of prisoners are being systematically violated,” he added.
The report emphasizes that it is essential for an adequate budget to be allocated so that the prison institutions can operate. Along these lines, Rapporteur Escobar Gil stated, “It is unacceptable for the State authorities to say that these obligations should be funded by private donors or by international cooperation partners. These problems are the responsibility of the State, and it is the State’s duty to assign sufficient resources.”
The IACHR Rapporteur emphasized that one of the report’s conclusions is that the grave structural crisis in Honduran prisons is the result of the absence, for decades, of comprehensive public policies that would ensure that the corrections system complies with the purposes of the American Convention on Human Rights, namely, the reform and social rehabilitation of convicted prisoners. “The State’s response to problems of crime and citizen insecurity must not consist exclusively of repressive measures, but also of preventive ones. In this category, we should include prison-system improvement programs designed to promote work and education in prisons as an appropriate means to reintegrate prisoners into society,” the Rapporteur said. “These types of programs would reduce the levels of recidivism, and thus crime rates would go down.”
The report is structured into three parts. First, it presents an assessment of the main structural deficiencies in the Honduran prison system: the delegation of internal control of the prisons to the prisoners themselves; overcrowding; lack of sufficient budget and adequate legal structure; lack of professional prison staff that is trained and specialized; and the lack of separation between male and female inmates and between those awaiting trial and those who have been convicted.
Another chapter analyzes the specific situation at the National Penitentiary of Comayagua in the context of the fire that took place on February 14, 2012, in which 362 people died. The report notes that this tragedy was not without precedent in Honduras, as 107 inmates died in 2004 in a fire at the San Pedro Sula National Penitentiary. In the case of both fires, the State authorities were known to have been aware of the risks and did not take timely corrective steps to prevent these tragedies.
In this chapter of the report, the Inter-American Commission stresses that it is imperative for the State to conduct a diligent, prompt, and impartial investigation into the events and, specifically, to investigate the claims that there were serious omissions by the prison authorities in preventing and controlling the fire and in rescuing the victims. The report notes that “it is the obligation of the State to exhaust all possible lines of investigation, and to clarify the events that occurred in Comayagua, both in order to punish those responsible and to satisfy the victims’ right of access to justice, and also to take the corrective measures needed to ensure that events of such extreme gravity never occur again.” The report also indicates that the State should provide appropriate medical and psychological care to the surviving inmates and the families of those who lost their lives in the fire, and to provide adequate reparation to the victims and their relatives.
The report ends with a series of general conclusions and recommendations for the State, geared toward overcoming the critical situation of the Honduran prison system. The Inter-American Commission recommended, among other things, that the State reduce overcrowding and ensure that inmates are held in decent conditions that are in accordance with the principle of humane treatment. The recommendations include some that demand urgent and immediate implementation, such as the need to put an end to an aberrant situation such as the lack of effective segregation of male and female prisoners in some facilities, such as the San Pedro Sula National Penitentiary.
The report also recommends that the State of Honduras firmly and without delay support the measures necessary to retake internal control of all prison facilities, such that it is the State that exercises internal security over the prisons as well as all of the functions inherent in prison administration—matters that may not be delegated to the prisoners themselves. In this regard, the IACHR strongly called upon the State to eradicate once and for all the practice of ceding disciplinary powers to the prisoners themselves, particularly the possibility of applying sanctions.
Other recommendations refer to the need to provide all prisons with interdisciplinary technical teams, including medical, psychological, and educational services; increase the number of judges in charge of monitoring the execution of sentences and security measures (Jueces de Ejecución Penal y Medidas de Seguridad) as necessary to cover those prisons to which none is yet assigned; and hire the personnel needed to ensure that all Supervising Courts (Juzgados de Ejecución de la Pena y Medidas de Seguridad) have a complete complement of interdisciplinary technical staff. The report also stresses that the Fire Department should conduct periodic inspections of all prison facilities in the country, to evaluate the appropriateness of fire safety and prevention measures, as well as emergency response protocols.
The Inter-American Commission and its Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty offer their support to the State of Honduras so that, within the scope of their mandates, they can help to bring about the necessary reforms to humanize the prison system and to ensure that all prisoners’ human rights are fully respected and guaranteed.
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.