María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the acts of violence that took place in four detention centers in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, in Brazil, which left nearly 100 people dead. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which these events took place, and to identify and punish those responsible.
According to publicly available information, on Sunday, January 1, 2017, a riot took place at the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (Compaj), located in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state. According to authorities in that state, the riot started because of a clash between two rival criminal gangs—the Family of the North and the First Capital Command—that were vying for control of the prison. This act of violence led to a massacre inside the penitentiary, which resulted in the deaths of 56 inmates, many of whom were decapitated, mutilated, and burned. During the confrontation, the press reported that the prisoners took 74 inmates and 12 guards hostage; they have since been released. According to the state’s Secretary of Public Security, these events represent “the largest massacre in the Amazonas prison system.” Meanwhile, according to information available to the Commission, another riot that same day at the Puraquequara Prison Unit—located in a rural area of Manaus—left four inmates dead.
Just five days after these incidents, according to information available to the IACHR, in the early morning hours of Friday, January 6, violence broke out at the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary (Pamc) located in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state. At least 33 inmates lost their lives as a result; most of the homicides were committed with firearms, and several of the prisoners were decapitated. According to statements made by the Secretary of Justice and Citizenship, the deaths of the 31 inmates were caused by members of the First Capital Command. Likewise, according to publicly available information, in the early hours of January 8, 2017, another riot took place in the prison Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa, also located in Manaus, and which had been reopened on January 2, to house inmates who were transferred from the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex. As a result of these acts of violence, according to statements made to the press by the Public Security Secretariat of the Amazonian state, at least 4 people lost their lives.
According to statements by Brazil’s Ministry of Justice, those primarily responsible for the bloodbath at the Anísio Jobim Complex will be identified and subsequently transferred to federal prisons in the country. Specifically, the head of the Delegation Specialized in Homicides and Kidnappings said that a Civil Police group is investigating the acts of violence that took place in the prisons, with the goal of completing its investigations within 30 days. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission calls to mind that the State has the obligation to investigate through its own due diligence the death of anyone who dies in its custody. These investigations must seek to establish not only the perpetrators but also possible masterminds, as well as any authorities who by action or omission may be responsible.
The Inter-American Commission observes with great concern that these deaths have taken place in a systematic context of repeated acts of violence in the State of Brazil’s detention centers, which have led the Inter-American Commission to grant precautionary measures and issue statements through press releases. In 2016 alone, the IACHR warned about this situation in the following press releases: No. 175/16, of November 23, 2016; No. 156/16, of October 25, 2016; and No. 79/16, of June 16, 2016. For years, through their respective mechanisms, both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have called on the State to adopt urgent and decisive measures to address the grave and profound challenges faced by the prison system in Brazil.
The IACHR reiterates that the State, as guarantor of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty, has an inescapable legal duty to take concrete steps to guarantee inmates’ rights to life and physical integrity, particularly measures to prevent and control outbreaks of violence in prisons. In this context, the Inter-American Commission urges the Brazilian authorities to adopt appropriate and concrete measures to prevent these types of violence. To that end, the IACHR calls on the Brazilian State to adopt concrete measures such as disarming inmates and imposing effective controls to keep weapons and other illicit items out of prisons; investigating and punishing any acts of violence and corruption that take place in correctional facilities; and ensuring that criminal organizations that have a presence in prisons are not able to operate. Likewise, according to information available to the IACHR, the violence that took place in two of these centers occurred in a situation of overcrowding. The information indicates that the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex had a prison population of approximately 1,200 inmates, and the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary (Pamc) housed about 1,400 detainees; respectively, these numbers represent the double and triple of its capacity. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission reiterates that States should take steps to reduce overcrowding and the use of pretrial detention, by employing and implementing alternative measures.
A principal, autonomous body of the 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.