Press Release

IACHR Condemns Violence in Guatemalan Prison

August 3, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the recent acts of violence that took place in a Guatemalan prison, the Granja Penal Pavón. As a result of these events, 14 people lost their lives and 10 were injured. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to investigate and clarify the circumstances surrounding these events and, where applicable, identify and punish those responsible.

According to publicly available information, on July 18, 2016, a riot broke out at the Granja Penal Pavón, 17 kilometers from Guatemala City, reportedly as a result of a clash between two rival groups that were fighting for control in the prison. According to the information available, one of these groups was led by Retired Captain Byron Lima, who was sentenced for the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998, and the other was led by Marvin Montiel Marín, alias "El Taquero," who was sentenced for drug trafficking. According to statements made to the press by prison officials, the clash began following an attack with a hand grenade on inmates who were guarding Byron Lima.

The information received indicates that 14 people lost their lives in these events, including Bryon Lima and Johanna Birriel, a 24-year-old Argentine woman who was visiting. Four of the dead were reportedly decapitated and another was charred to death. Ten inmates were also injured. In addition, according to official information, at the time of the clash 129 visitors were at the prison; they were evacuated by security forces and will be investigated to determine their possible participation in these acts of violence. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and Interior Minister Francisco Rivas Lara indicated that the relevant authorities are continuing the search for those who were responsible.

As guarantors of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty, States are legally bound to take concrete steps to guarantee the rights to life, humane treatment, and security of inmates. This obligation includes ensuring the detention conditions required under international human rights standards. The Inter-American Commission also calls to mind that the State has the duty to investigate through its own due diligence the death of anyone who dies while in its custody. These investigations should seek to establish not only the perpetrators of the acts, but also possible masterminds and any authorities who may be responsible, by action or omission.

Moreover, the Inter-American Commission notes that in late 2015 and the beginning of this year, similar acts of violence took place in two other Guatemalan prisons, Granja Penal Canadá and Puerto Barrios, located in the province of Escuintla and the department of Izabal, respectively. This Commission referred to these events in Press Release 144/15, dated December 7, 2015, and Press Release 2/16, dated January 19, 2016. In this context, the Inter-American Commission urges the Guatemalan authorities to adopt appropriate measures, including structural reforms, in order to prevent these types of acts of violence, and to investigate such incidents with due diligence and without delay. Toward this end, the IACHR calls on the State to take concrete steps such as disarming inmates and imposing effective controls to keep out weapons and other illicit items; improving security inside prisons; investigating and punishing any acts of violence and corruption that may take place in correctional facilities; and preventing the activities of criminal organizations with a presence inside prisons.

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. 109/16