Press Release

IACHR Condemns Violent Deaths in Three Detention Centers in Venezuela

March 22, 2016

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Washington, D.C. –   The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the violent deaths of at least twelve inmates at the José Antonio Anzoátegui judicial confinement center and at the Police General Command, both in the state of Anzoátegui, as well as in the Fénix Community Penitentiary, located in the state of Lara, Venezuela. The IACHR urges the State to investigate with due diligence and to clarify the circumstances in which these events occurred, and if appropriate, to identify and prosecute the people responsible. The State should also adopt the necessary measures to prevent the occurrence of similar events in the future.

According to publicly available information, in January and February 2016 five violent deaths took place in the judicial confinement center José Antonio Anzoátegui, known as Puente Ayala Prison, in Venezuela. Likewise, according to the information the IACHR has received, in January 5, 2016, a confrontation between inmates resulted in the death of Rafael Higuera Zavala. Likewise, it was informed that on January 22, David Josué Morales Chirinos was killed by an inmate. Meanwhile, according to the information available to the Commission, other three people died due to the use of firearms in the detention center: Ángel Augusto Urbaneja Silva on February 14, Henry Jean Mariño Rodríguez on February 20 and José Andrés Serrano Mora on February 27.

On the other hand, according to the Venezuelan media, on March 6, 2016, a riot took place inside Anzoátegui Police General Command that resulted in the loss of the lives of three inmates and injures to another 12. According to declarations made to the media by the Chief Commissioner of Anzoátegui’s Police, José Alexander Rivero, the riots were protests by the inmates against the alleged extortions and aggressions coming from a criminal organization that controlled the police holding cell.
Likewise, according to information available to this Commission, in March 15, 2016, in Fénix Penitentiary Center a confrontation took place between the guards and inmates, as the inmates tried to take hostage the director of the penitentiary due to discontentment about the conditions of the detention. Following the confrontation, according to Venezuela’s Public Ministry press release, five people lost their lives – of whom four were inmates and one guard – and 57 people resulted injured, including 52 inmates, four guards, and the center’s director.

These serious acts happen in a context of violence that prevails in Venezuelan prisons. In this regard, this Commission reiterates its deep concern about the high levels of violence in Venezuela’s detentions centers, which have included riots, confrontation between members of criminal gangs, aggressions with firearms, and other violent situations.

In addition, the IACHR notes that what happened in the Puente Ayala Prison, in the Fénix Penitentiary Center and in the Police General Command took place in a situation of overcrowding. In particular, according to information available to the IACHR, the Puente Ayala Prison overcrowding situation exceeded 350%.  Likewise, the Inter-American Commission has been informed about the critical conditions of overcrowding present in the majority of the police holding cells in the country. In particular, it has received information indicating that even though police holding cells are supposed to be temporary detention centers, they actually work as “indefinite” detention centers for prisoners in pretrial detention, and even to hold persons who have already been condemned.

In this context, the Inter-American Commission urgently calls on the Venezuelan authorities to adopt appropriate measures, including structural reforms, to prevent these types of acts of violence. For this end, the IACHR urges the State to take concrete steps such as disarming inmates and imposing effective controls to keep out weapons and other illicit items; investigating and punishing any acts of violence and corruption that may take place in penitentiary facilities; and preventing the activities of criminal organizations with a presence inside prisons. Likewise, the State should also take steps to reduce overcrowding and the use of pretrial detention, through the implementation of alternative measures. In that regard, this Commission has indicated that the use of precautionary measures other than pretrial detention is consistent with the exceptional nature of pretrial detention and with the right to presumption of innocence, moreover the use of alternative measures tends to be sustainable and effective as part of a comprehensive strategy to address prison overcrowding.

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. 041/16