Press Release

IACHR Deplores Deaths and Injuries at Youth Education Center in Paraguay

August 22, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is deeply concerned by the death of two adolescents and the injuries suffered by at least seven more at the Itauguá Education Center, a facility that houses young people in conflict with the law, and it urges the Paraguayan State to take the steps necessary to prevent the reoccurrence of similar incidents in the future and to investigate and punish those responsible. Only last May, the Commission expressed its concern about outbreaks of violence and deaths at the same center and about the structural conditions that enable such incidents to occur.

According to the information received, the first riot began at the Itauguá Education Center at 4 p.m. on July 31, 2014. The riot continued into the nighttime, when a group of youths used the opportunity to make their escape from the facility. Reports indicate that during their escape attempt, two youths were fatally electrocuted when they came into contact with the electric fence surrounding the center. According to the available information, as a result of the actions of state agents – specifically the center’s custodial personnel – seven adolescents were seriously injured.

The IACHR has received repeated reports about the center’s shortcomings, which help set the conditions for incidents of this kind to take place on a regular basis. According to public statements made by the Director of Penal Institutes, the center has doubled the number of young people it houses from 80 to 185 over the past two years, and it only has six educators (guards) working each shift. Furthermore, the Commission believes that one grave structural problem of the juvenile justice system is the fact that, as UNICEF has noted, the majority of the incarcerated adolescents have not been convicted. On this point, the IACHR again notes that in the case of children and adolescents, the criteria for ordering preventive custody must be applied with greater rigor, with preference given to the use of other precautionary measures or prosecution while at liberty. When preventive detention is warranted, it should be applied for the shortest possible duration and be subject to frequent review. In addition, as indicated in an earlier communiqué dealing with deaths at the same center, the Commission notes with concern that according to testimony given by Itauguá Education Center inmates to the public prosecution service, the facility suffers from serious shortcomings in such essential aspects as the food provided to the adolescents it houses.

In this regard, the IACHR again notes that the State, as the guarantor of the fundamental rights of people deprived of freedom, has a binding legal duty to take concrete steps to uphold inmates’ rights to life and to humane treatment and, in particular, measures to prevent and control possible outbreaks of violence in prisons. The IACHR reiterates the remarks made by the Inter-American Court in its 2004 judgment in the Case of the Juvenile Reeducation Institute v. Paraguay: in dealing with children deprived of their freedom, the State “has the same obligations it has regarding any person, yet compounded by the added obligation established in Article 19 of the American Convention. On the one hand, it must be all the more diligent and responsible in its role as guarantor and must take special measures based on the principle of the best interests of the child.”

Similarly, in connection with the death of the two youths, Paraguay’s National Torture Prevention Mechanism has underscored “the need for intelligent and urgent public investment to provide the juvenile justice system with trained human resources, technical equipment, and appropriate infrastructure, so that custodial measures are used as the final resort after first exhausting the other options available.”

The Inter-American Commission urges the State to conduct a diligent ex officio investigation into the incident at the Itauguá Education Center and to determine the applicable criminal responsibilities. In addition, it calls on the State to fully evaluate the detention conditions at the facility and to adopt the corrective measures necessary in accordance with the minimum standards set by international human rights law for the incarceration of children and adolescents, particularly as regards the food served to detainees and activities essential for inmates’ development, as the Inter-American Court ordered in its judgment. In addition, the Commission urges the national authorities to effectively monitor the security mechanisms in place at the country’s juvenile detention facilities, in order to prevent the repetition of incidents such as those that have occurred at the Itauguá Education Center.

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. 91/14