Press Release

IACHR Laments Deaths in Fire at Police Jail in Buenos Aires, Argentina

March 9, 2017

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) laments the deaths of seven people who were being held in custody at a police jail in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The IACHR calls on the State to investigate the incident with due diligence and without delay; adopt urgent measures to prevent such events from happening again; and refrain from using police stations as permanent detention centers.

According to publicly available information, a fire broke out on March 2, 2017, at the 1st Police Station of Pergamino, in Buenos Aires province, when a fight among inmates led to mattresses being set on fire. Seven people in custody lost their lives: Juan Carlos Cabrera, Alan Córdoba, Sergio Filibero, Fernando Emanuel Latorre, Carlos John Mario, Federico Perrota, and Franco Pizarro. The Chief of the Pergamino Volunteer Fire Department told the Argentine press that the deaths were caused by asphyxiation and that the initial forensic analysis indicated that those who died had also been attacked with sharp weapons.

The situation regarding the rights of people held in police jails has been examined by the IACHR through different mechanisms. In press releases on June 21, 2010, and October 19, 2016—issued following working visits to Argentina by the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty—the Commission expressed its deep concern about the detention conditions in such facilities, noting that they “come up short of the basic standards that would make them compatible with prisoners’ right to humane treatment.” In addition, on May 12, 2016, the Commission granted precautionary measures—PM 496-14 and PM 37-15—for individuals being deprived of their liberty in six police stations in Lomas de Zamora and La Matanza, Argentina.

The IACHR has noted that people are detained for months in police stations, which are designed as temporary holding facilities and are not equipped with the infrastructure and basic services to ensure decent conditions of detention; moreover, police personnel are not trained to serve as prison wardens. Considering that situation, the IACHR calls on the State to take the necessary urgent steps to end the use of police stations as permanent holding facilities for prisoners.

In addition, the IACHR urges the State to ensure that the investigation into what happened in Pergamino is carried out with due diligence. States have the obligation to conduct serious, diligent, and impartial investigations into incidents in which people die or are injured in detention centers. These investigations should clarify what happened and lead to the punishment of anyone who had some degree of responsibility, and should provide a means of reparation for the victims. The Commission also reiterates that States hold a special position as guarantors of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, and in this context, the obligation to guarantee implies that necessary measures must be adopted to prevent dangerous situations—such as this one—that may pose serious threats to the fundamental rights of those in custody. In this sense, States have the obligation to ensure that detention centers have adequate, safe structures and the appropriate means, plans of action, and sufficient, trained staff in place to handle emergency situations such as fires.  

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.

No. 026/17