IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on December 17, 2021 an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a case concerning adolescents held in short- and long-term detention facilities run by Chile's National Children's Service (SENAME). The case concerns the State's international responsibility for the fate of 10 adolescents who died in 2007 in a fire at the short-term detention center Tiempo de Crecer in Puerto Montt and of 282 adolescents held at four short- and long-term detention facilities—Lihuén (Limache), Antuhue (Rancagua), San Bernardo (San Miguel), and Tiempo de Crecer (Puerto Montt)—that the SENAME managed and was responsible for.
In its Merits Report, the IACHR noted that the authorities at the SENAME and the Tiempo de Crecer facility had failed to take the minimum preventive measures required to manage fire hazards, including the use of fire extinguishers. The Commission further noted that only after this fire happened was an emergency plan put in place and that the authorities' response was poor, late, and/or insufficient. The IACHR therefore
concluded that omissions and shortcomings in the State's response amounted to a serious failure to comply with the State's duty to protect the rights of these adolescents who were deprived of liberty, leading to the deaths of 10 adolescents.
The Puerto Montt Public Prosecutor's Office launched a criminal investigation into the deaths of these 10 adolescents. Six officials were initially charged with manslaughter, but they were later granted temporary suspensions of criminal proceedings that eventually led to their termination based on a statute of limitations. The investigation was therefore called off, based on the discretionary powers of Puerto Montt's Public Prosecutor's Office and Court authorities, before the people responsible for these crimes were ever tried or punished. The victims' families and legal representatives were not allowed to take part in these decisions, which were considered classified, and only found out about them through national media outlets. The IACHR therefore found that the State had failed to comply with its duty to investigate, prosecute, and punish the people responsible for the deaths of the 10 adolescents who died in the fire.
The IACHR also found that the 282 adolescents held in the four detention facilities were being held in conditions that did not meet the basic standards of a humane, dignified treatment, which conspired against the individual development of these adolescents in heightened judicial protection regimes. At the time of these events, none of these four centers separated detainees by age, procedural stage, or gender, and they did not provide adequate medical or dental care. The Commission therefore deemed that the State had failed to comply with its duty to protect the rights to education, leisure, and occupational training of the affected individuals, in keeping with inter-American standards. The IACHR found that these four detention centers used isolation cells where adolescents were locked up and punished in ways that amounted to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Concerning judicial proceedings, appeals courts in Valparaíso, Rancagua, San Miguel, and Puerto Montt all rejected various writs of amparo that had been filed over poor conditions of detention, arguing that they were inadmissible. The courts failed to tell petitioners about the appropriate route to achieve adequate protection for these adolescents, and they also failed to take measures to protect these adolescents' rights. The situation in these facilities was subjected to inspection by various State institutions and an Investigatory Committee was set up by the Lower House of Congress to investigate the fire and the state of Chile's detention facilities. The IACHR said it had received no evidence that these moves had been effective to end constant human rights violations in these facilities. The Commission therefore concluded that the right to judicial protection of these 282 adolescents had been violated.
Finally, the Commission found that the State was responsible for violations of the rights to life, personal integrity, judicial guarantees, judicial protection, health, water, basic sanitation, education, and leisure held in the American Convention, and for failing to comply with its own obligations to protect human rights and to grant special protection to children and adolescents.
The IACHR therefore recommended that the State take all measures necessary for the families of the 10 dead adolescents and of the further 282 adolescents to be granted comprehensive reparations; take—with a gender perspective—all measures necessary to protect the rights of children and adolescents who are deprived of liberty; and end isolation as a way to punish children and adolescents held in short- or long-term detention facilities in Chile.
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.