Press Release

IACHR, OHCHR Urge the State of Honduras to Protect the Lives and Integrity of Individuals Held in Penitentiary and Juvenile Detention Facilities, Following the Declaration of a State of Penitentiary Emergency in the Country

December 26, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Honduran branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) are deeply concerned about the violent deaths of at least 37 people and the injuries suffered by many more in Honduras, in events that happened on December 20 at the Tela Penitentiary in the Atlántida department and on December 22 at El Porvenir Penitentiary in Valle de Siria, in the Francisco Morazán department.

On December 20, at least 19 inmates died and 15 were injured in violence at the Tela Penitentiary, the authorities confirmed. Two days later, at El Porvenir Penitentiary, at least 18 inmates died and several were injured in further violence. This followed violence on December 14, when five inmates were murdered at a maximum-security ward known as La Tolva at the Morocelí Penitentiary, and on December 3, when four adolescents were murdered at the Renaciendo Juvenile Detention Center.
During December 2019, a total of at least 46 inmates—including four adolescents—died and many more were injured in violence at penitentiary and juvenile detention facilities.

Events this weekend came after the State of Honduras declared a state of emergency in the National Prison System on December 16, through executive decree PCM-068-2019. The decree created an Intervention Committee that includes staff from the National Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA, by its Spanish acronym) and granted it the power to manage the National Prison System—including its major management institutions—for six months. The IACHR and the OHCHR hope that, in keeping with Article 2 of the decree, the institutions that make up FUSINA will take a leading role within the Intervention Committee, in compliance with international and regional human rights standards.

Regional and inter-American human rights mechanisms have systematically recommended that Honduras reconsider the role of the military in the country’s penitentiary facilities and transfer to civilian authorities the management of those facilities. The State must adopt a strategy to gradually remove the Armed Forces from penitentiary duties and enable the transfer to the National Penitentiary Institute of the formal and material management of the country’s incarceration centers.

In this context, the IACHR and the OHCHR urge the State of Honduras to fulfil its international human rights obligations by ensuring that the decree to declare a state of emergency in the National Penitentiary System reflects international human rights standards and the recommendations made to Honduras by inter-American and international institutions for the protection of human rights. The IACHR and the OHCHR therefore urge the State of Honduras to include in the Intervention Committee both the National Commissioner on Human Rights (CONADEH, by its Spanish acronym) and the National Prevention Mechanism (CONAPREV, by its Spanish acronym), to ensure that their observations and recommendations may contribute to ensuring that the Committee fulfils its role.

The IACHR and the OHCHR further insist that any assessments, public policies, and reforms concerning the prison system that might be implemented in the context of the current emergency must be the result of an examination procedure that reflects the applicable standards. The IACHR and the OHCHR offer their technical assistance and recommend that these efforts promote mechanisms for effective participation from different sectors active in this field.

The IACHR and the OHCHR urge the State to conduct a comprehensive, independent, and impartial investigation to ensure that any individuals and State institutions accountable for these events are punished, and that victims and their families achieve effective reparations. The State has the obligation to protect the human rights of all individuals who are deprived of liberty and must take any necessary prevention measures and adopt guarantees of non-recurrence. The IACHR and the OHCHR express their solidarity with victims of these events and their families, and stress that the State’s international obligations include providing comprehensive support to victims and their families.

Facilitating the work of human rights defenders and national institutions for the protection of human rights and the prevention of torture is crucial in this context, so the State must ensure that they can do their job in a favorable environment, by protecting their personal integrity among other elements.

Finally, the IACHR and the OHCHR stress their willingness to provide technical assistance to the State of Honduras, so it may honor its international commitments and comply with the applicable inter-American and international standards.

On May 4, 2015, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the government of Honduras signed an agreement to set up a branch of the OHCHR in the country. With the aim of improving the enjoyment of human rights in Honduras, that branch independently monitors the human rights situation in the country, gives advice to Honduran State institutions and civil society organizations, and disseminates information about human rights.

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. 334/19