Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over People Killed and Injured in a Bolivian Prison

March 26, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the result of the police operation carried out at the Santa Cruz Rehabilitation Center ("Palmasola Prison"), Bolivia, which resulted in the loss of lives of at least seven inmates and in approximately 20 wounded people, among them, 7 policemen. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which these events occurred, as well as to identify and punish the perpetrators.

According to public information, on March 14, 2018 approximately 2,300 policemen carried out an operation without prior notice in the Penitentiary Center of "Palmasola", in the department of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. As conveyed by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Police, the purpose of the operation was to restore the order and control in the prison, since criminal organizations were operating inside. The response of the inmates to the operation was allegedly violent, with the use of firearms and fuel jugs to prevent the police advance.

As a result of this operation, the General Commander of the Police indicated that a hundred women and children who lived in the prison were evicted. From the searches, police forces seized, among other objects, drugs, weapons and firearms, war grenades, fuel jugs and a distiller of alcoholic beverages. Likewise, inmates considered as "dangerous" were transferred to other prisons. For its part, the Commission observes that according to the testimonies of the women evicted from the jail, they were beaten and stripped of all their belongings. Likewise, it notes that the Ombudsman's Office condemns the force used against all inmates of the prison and initiated an ex officio investigation into such acts.

The State authorities have an inescapable duty to guarantee good order and internal security in detention centers, and in this sense, searches or inspections are necessary mechanisms to confiscate illegal effects or to prevent attempts of evasion. However, these procedures must be carried out in accordance with protocols clearly established by law, in such a way that the right to personal integrity of the inmates is respected, and without a disproportionate use of force. The Commission emphasizes that the Bolivian State has the obligation to investigate ex officio and with due diligence all those deaths of persons who are in its custody. These investigations should be oriented to establish the material and intellectual responsibilities of the facts and the possible responsibility of authorities, either by action or omission. Likewise, the State must provide adequate medical attention to the people who were injured.

"These unfortunate events, which represented irreparable losses, took place in a prison characterized by high levels of overcrowding and deplorable conditions that put at risk the lives and integrity of people deprived of liberty," said the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, Commissioner Joel Hernández. "In this context, it is worrying that this center also accommodated dozens of women with their children. Prison establishments must provide detainees with spaces that guarantee their life and safety, since they are under the direct custody of the State."

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. 062/18