Press Release

IACHR Deplores Violent Deaths in Bolivian Prison

August 28, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the violent death of at least 30 people in the Rehabilitation Center of Santa Cruz (“cárcel de Palmasola”) in the Santa Cruz province, Bolivia. The IACHR urges the State to investigate and punish the perpetrators, and to implement the necessary measures to prevent the repetition of similar incidents, particularly those measures aimed at strengthening the correctional system as an institution.

According to information widely disseminated, State officials have confirmed that, in the early morning hours of Thursday, August 23, 2013, a clash broke out among inmates in the maximum-security section of the Palmasola prison. The brawl left at least thirty people dead and more than fifty injured, many of them with serious burns. Among the deceased was an 18-month-old boy who was living inside the prison.

These events were reportedly triggered when a group of inmates in cellblock B set off two tanks of liquid propane gas that exploded in cellblock A, causing a fire at a time when many inmates were still asleep. In the attack, the inmates were brandishing machetes, knives, sticks and firearms. Several hours passed before calm could be restored and before the firefighters were able to put out the flames. This fight was the result of a power struggle among the inmates to gain control inside the prison.

Given these events, the IACHR must once again emphasize that States, as guarantors of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, have a basic duty to ensure control and security inside prisons. In order to guarantee the human rights of persons deprived of liberty, prison authorities must maintain order inside prisons; this is an inherent obligation that they cannot forsake, no matter the circumstances. States also have an obligation to investigate ex officio and with the necessary due diligence any deaths of persons within their custody.

It is particularly troubling that a child was among those who died in these terrible acts of violence. The Commission notes that in Bolivia, more than two thousand children are living with their parents inside prisons; over half these children are under the age of six. The Commission welcomes the fact that the State has strengthened its efforts to address this problem since June 2013. However, the Commission believes that the poor infrastructure, unhealthy conditions and lack of security inside Bolivia’s prisons pose serious threats to the physical, mental and moral wellbeing of the children and adolescents living with their fathers and mothers in Bolivian prisons. Therefore, the Commission must emphasize how imperative it is that the Bolivian State to adopt comprehensive, ongoing measures of general application to ensure that when children are lodged in detention centers together with their father or mother deprived of liberty, the best interests of the child are taken into account upon establishing pertinent policies, and particularly that they have access to special protection, food, health and educational services necessary for their proper development.

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 an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 62/13