Press Release

IACHR Regrets Deaths Due to Reported Drug Overdose in Jail of Venezuela

December 11, 2014

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern about the deaths by intoxication of at least 40 inmates in the prison of the Central Western "David Viloria" Region, formerly known as "Uribana Prison", located in the state of Lara, Venezuela. The IACHR urges the State of Venezuela to adopt the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of similar facts.

According to the information received, on November 24 and 25, 2014, inmates in the prison "David Viloria" staged a series of protests, including a hunger strike, apparently due to mistreatment by prison authorities. According to publicly available information, on November 25 the authorities had started a process of mass transfer of inmates to other prisons, and had tried to control the situation by sending National Guard officials to the detention center. In this context, on November 26, the inmates reported drug overdose, apparently due to the consumption of combined drugs, was publicly announced. Initially, the Commission received information on the death of 25 persons deprived of liberty by poisoning; as well as about the transfer of 96 to the University hospital "Antonio Maria Pineda" in Barquisimeto for medical observation. To date, according to press reports, the death toll would have risen to more than 40 inmates.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered provisional measures with respect to the "David Vitoria" (Prison Uribana) Penitentiary Center in the Central Western Region, on February 2, 2007, which were reiterated by the Court by order of February 13, 2013. In particular, the Court required to the Venezuelan State to adopt, immediately and continuously the necessary and effective provisional measures to prevent the loss of life and damage to the physical, mental and moral integrity of all persons who are imprisoned in the jail of Uribana; of the people who enter as prison inmates in the future; of those who work there; and of those who enter as visitors.

In this regard, the Commission reiterates that the State, as guarantor of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty has the unavoidable legal duty to take concrete actions to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of prisoners. As a consequence of the act of deprivation of liberty the States has a specific and material commitment of the State to guarantee the conditions required under international standards to safeguard the lives and humane treatment of prisoners. The duty to ensure these conditions implies that it must take all necessary measures to prevent situations of risk such as this, which seriously threaten the fundamental rights of detainees.

States also have an obligation to investigate ex officio and with due diligence all the deaths of people in their custody. This inquiry should not only be aimed at establishing the perpetrators of the facts, but also the possible masterminds and those authorities who, by action or omission, may be responsible.

The Commission urges the authorities to investigate these acts in accordance with international human rights standards, particularly along the lines of the Model Protocol for a Legal Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.

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. 148/14