Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Death of People at Ceará Prison, Brazil

February 16, 2018

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Washington, DC - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the violence that took place in the state of Ceará, Brazil, and which led to at least 10 deaths and 8 injuries. The IACHR urges the state of Brazil to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which these events took place, and to identify and punish those responsible for them.

According to publicly available information, on January 29, 2018, a riot broke out at Itapaje Public Prison in the state of Ceará, Brazil. This violence was allegedly caused by a confrontation between two rival organized crime groups: Primeiro Comando da Capital and Comando Vermelho. According to the Ceará State Secretariat of Justice and Citizenship, municipal police and corrections officers belonging to the Regional Operations Group mounted an operation to take back control of the prison. Firearms, ammunition, knives, and drugs were confiscated during a search carried out after events. At a press conference, the Ceará Penitentiary Council stated that the conference was due to members of the two groups being held together. In the wake of these events, the authorities stated they had ordered the transfer of 44 people to other detention centers.

The IACHR acknowledges that the authorities are investigating these events. According to statements the Civil Police of the State of Ceará made to the press, investigations into these events have begun and six inmates have been identified as being allegedly responsible for them. The IACHR wishes to stress that the state of Brazil is obliged to initiate ex officio investigations into all deaths of people in its custody and conduct these with due diligence. These investigations should not only seek to establish who was responsible for carrying out the crimes in question but should also identify those who may have masterminded them and any authorities who by their actions or omissions may also be responsible.

“The IACHR has repeatedly called on the state to take concrete action to control possible outbreaks of violence, as part of its role as the guarantor of the rights of people deprived of their liberty,” said IACHR rapporteur on the rights of people deprived of their liberty, Commissioner Joel Hernández. “To achieve this, it is essential that the Brazilian state take measures to disarm inmates; impose effective controls to prevent the entry of weapons and other illicit objects into penitentiaries; investigate and punish acts of violence and corruption; and take steps to prevent criminal organizations from operating within prisons,” he added.

The IACHR notes with the greatest of concern that these deaths were caused in a context of repeated acts of violence within the Brazilian penitentiary system, in which severe overcrowding and deplorable conditions of detention are endemic. The IACHR and the IA Court have made multiple recommendations to the state of Brazil to guarantee the rights of prison populations through the different mechanisms at their disposal. The IACHR has granted precautionary measures and analyzed petitions and cases on the subject, held public hearings, and visited detention centers. It has also issued a number of press releases expressing its concern over these events. At the start of this year, the IACHR condemned the deaths that occurred during the riot in a prison in Goiás; and in 2017 it spoke out against the acts of violence that took place at four detention centers in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, which led to nearly a hundred deaths. Likewise, in 2016 it warned about the violence in Brazilian prisons that allegedly led to the deaths of 54 people who were being deprived of their liberty.

“Given this context of continual violence, the IACHR urges Brazilian authorities to take actions that have a real impact on the specific risks affecting people who are deprived of their liberty. This includes bringing the conditions in which people are held at detention centers up to international standards, taking immediate action to implement medium- and long-term plans to guarantee the lives and integrity of this population,” said the IACHR rapporteur for Brazil, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola.

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 and to defend 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. 030/18