Press Release

IACHR Brings Venezuela Case before the IA Court

April 5, 2019

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over case 12.890, José Gregorio Mota Abarullo and others (deaths at the San Félix Penitentiary), involving Venezuela.

The case concerns the deaths of José Gregorio Mota Abarullo, Gabriel de Jesús Yáñez Sánchez, Rafael Antonio Parra Herrera, Cristián Arnaldo Molina Córdova, and Johan José Correa, inmates at the Monsignor Juan José Bernal Treatment and Diagnostic Center, a detention center for adolescents who are subject to criminal proceedings that is part of the National Children’s Institute (INAM), following a fire in a cell on June 30, 2005.

In the Merits Report, the IACHR found that the state had violated the rights to life and personal integrity of those who died in the fire, in relation to its obligations toward children and in view of its failure to comply with its duty to prevent such deaths and the suffering associated with death by asphyxiation, suffocation, and burns. Furthermore, the IACHR identified a series of factors that highlight the lack of a penitentiary policy to prevent critical situations at the INAM-San Félix. This was manifest in the living conditions at the center at the time of events, particularly with regard to overcrowding and shortcomings in infrastructure. The IACHR deemed that although those who died in the fire had already reached the age of 18, the circumstances that led to their deaths were the result of the lack of sufficient special protection measures to guarantee the right to life, personal integrity, and conditions of dignity for all adolescent inmates at the INAM-San Félix.

Consequently, the IACHR found that the state’s responsibility for these matters was due to the absence of preventive measures to address the possibility of violence within the center itself as a consequence of ongoing circumstances that the state was also responsible for, and to the negligence of the staff working at the center and the fire department in terms of their actions to put out the fire and save the victims’ lives. In this regard, the IACHR deemed that the fire department’s lack of appropriate equipment with which to put out the fire and enter the cell to help the victims was also an omission that can be attributed to the state. Furthermore, the IACHR stated that the victims’ families’ right to judicial guarantees and legal protection were also violated, as the state did not provide them with an effective remedy for clarifying events and establishing who was responsible for them. The IACHR also established that there had been a clear violation of the notion of a reasonable timeframe, given that more than 13 years have gone by since the victims died and 12 years have gone by since the alleged perpetrators were charged in 2006, yet the events remain entirely unpunished.

In the Merits Report, the IACHR recommended that the state of Venezuela make comprehensive reparations for both the tangible and intangible aspects of the human rights violations described out in the report, specifying that the state must take measures to provide economic compensation and redress. The IACHR also recommended that Venezuela provide the physical and mental health care measures needed for the rehabilitation of the families of the young people who died, should they so wish, and provided that such measures are agreed on with them. It also recommended that Venezuela continue the criminal investigation into events diligently and effectively, and that it do so within a reasonable period of time in order to completely clarify events, identify all those who may be responsible for them, and impose the corresponding sanctions for the human rights violations described in this report. Finally, the IACHR recommended that nonrepetition mechanisms should be implemented and that these should include all measures needed to eradicate the multiple risk factors identified in the Merits Report for this case. These include matters relating to infrastructure, effective control, emergency responses, the elimination of overcrowding, separation, and strict compliance with programs for the social reintegration of adolescents who are being deprived of their liberty at the INAM-San Félix.

The IACHR filed the application with the court on March 29, 2019, as it deemed that Venezuela had not complied with the recommendations set out in the Merits Report.

This case will allow the IA Court to develop and consolidate its jurisprudence on the obligations that ensue from states’ special position as guarantors of the rights of people who have been deprived of their liberty, particularly the scope and content of the duty to guarantee preventive measures around acts of violence and other circumstances that may put the life and personal integrity of people in state custody at risk. The IA Court will also be delve deeper into special measures that may be required in connection with detention centers for adolescents who are subject to criminal proceedings. The IA Court will also be able to establish special obligations relating to diligent and effective investigations into events such as those that are the subject of this case.

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. 088/19