IACHR Condemns Death of Women Detainees in Fire at Police Station in Argentina

September 23, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the death of four women who were being deprived of their freedom in a police station in Tucumán Province, Argentina, during a fire. It also urged the State to investigate the events with enhanced due diligence and to take measures to prevent such incidents from happening again. The IACHR also reminded the State that it must cease to use police stations as long-term detention facilities.

According to publicly available information, on September 2, 2021, a fire broke out at the women's police station in Concepción, Tucumán Province, causing the deaths of four women who were being deprived of their freedom there: María José Saravia, Macarena Salinas, Micaela Mendoza, and Yanet Santillán. According to information from civil society, the police detention center lacked fire safety equipment and the electricals were in bad condition. These circumstances were compounded by the fact that the events took place in a context of overcrowding and deplorable conditions.

Through its different mechanisms, the IACHR has expressed particular concern over the situation of people who are detained at police stations. Specifically, it has noted that these individuals are often held for months, even though the establishments in question are only intended for temporary detention and generally lack the infrastructure and basic services needed to guarantee conditions of detention that respect human dignity. Specifically, the IACHR has issued statements to this effect through its press releases of June 21, 2010, October 19, 2016, and March 9, 2017, and in its Annual Reports for 2018 and 2020. It also granted Precautionary Measures 187-10, 496-14, and 37-15 in favor of people being deprived of their freedom at police stations or police facilities in Buenos Aires Province.

In this regard, the IACHR noted that States have a special duty to protect people who are in their custody. This obligation implies guaranteeing conditions of detention that are compatible with human dignity and adopting the measures needed to prevent situations of risk that threaten detainees' life and personal integrity. On this point, it once again reminded the State of Argentina of the need to implement urgent, effective actions in order to cease the use of police stations and facilities as places in which people are deprived of their liberty for prolonged periods. The IACHR also urged the State to take measures to ensure that detention facilities have effective, appropriate safety equipment and action plans and that staff have sufficient emergency and risk-related training to respond to emergencies that may arise.

Likewise, the IACHR urged the State of Argentina to investigate the events swiftly and with due diligence. On this point, it noted that it is States' duty to conduct serious, diligent, impartial investigations into all incidents that take place at places where people are deprived of their liberty and that result in death or injury. The aim of such investigations is to clarify events, punish those who may have been in some way responsible for them, and provide reparation for victims. In this specific case, given that the victims were women who were being deprived of their freedom, the IACHR also noted that it is States' duty to act with enhanced due diligence to prevent, protect, investigate, sanction, and provide reparation for all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination, with support from competent, impartial authorities with specialist training in this area.

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. 252/21

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