IACHR Condemns Deaths of At Least 46 Women in Honduran Prison

June 28, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the violence that has claimed the lives of at least 46 inmates inside the National Women's Penitentiary for Social Adaptation (PNFAS) in Honduras. The Commission urges the Honduran State to take immediate, effective measures, with a gender perspective, to protect the rights to life and humane treatment of all women in State custody, and to ensure that similar events do not happen again in the future.

According to the National Penitentiary Institute (INP), a group of inmates with firearms expelled police officers and prison guards from the PNFAS on June 20, 2023, to take control of the facilities and enter a different ward in the same prison. The reports the IACHR has had access to note that inmates set fire to various spaces, fired shots, and injured other women using knives. According to the Honduran Public Prosecutor's Office, at least 46 women died in this context. Public sources said that at least two of them were prison guards.

The Commission notes that these deaths happened in the violent context that has been prevalent for years in Honduran penitentiary facilities, amid clashes for power among criminal gangs. This background is currently compounded by protests against State action to fight organized crime.

During a recent on-site visit to Honduras, the IACHR was informed that corruption facilitates firearm entry into prisons, as well as the loss of State authority and control within detention facilities. This reportedly enables a self-governing system led by criminal gangs, particularly in maximum-security prisons and in the National Women's Penitentiary. This situation is reportedly made worse by the fact that there are not enough guards or security equipment, and it enables increasingly serious violence which puts detainees' lives and integrity at risk.

The Commission notes the measures implemented by Forensic Medicine professionals and by the Public Prosecutor's Office to investigate recent events at the PNFAS and to assist the families of dead women by providing psychological care and access to information. The Commission also notes the deployment of first responders and the support provided by the Honduran Red Cross to the families of the affected women.

The IACHR stresses that States have an inescapable duty to take concrete, immediate action to protect the rights to life and personal integrity of individuals who are deprived of liberty. Given this international obligation, the Honduran State must take effective action to prevent and control violence within penitentiaries, in keeping with the inter-American principles on the protection of persons deprived of liberty.

The required measures include the following: (i) adopting protocols to prevent riots and to restore security; (ii) increasing staff with security and internal surveillance tasks; (iii) enforcing effective control to keep weapons and other illegal objects out of penitentiary facilities; and (iv) preventing the actions of criminal organizations present inside prisons. States also have a duty to protect the safety and personal integrity of all the staff active inside detention facilities.

The IACHR stresses that States have an obligation to investigate on their own initiative, and in a serious, comprehensive, impartial, and timely manner, all allegations of violence within detention facilities and, in particular, all deaths of individuals while in State custody. These investigations must seek not only to establish who perpetrated the events, but also any masterminds and any authorities who might be to blame based on their actions or omissions.

Incarcerating women has specific dimensions that lead to differentiated violations of their rights based on their gender, and States must take all measures necessary to protect all women who are deprived of liberty from all forms of violence. In this context, the IACHR notes that adopting a gender perspective implies considering the heightened risk of violence in all its forms faced by women, and also the fact that most of these incidents go unpunished. States therefore have an obligation to act with enhanced due diligence and to adopt and implement an intersectional perspective and a gender perspective to prevent, investigate, and punish all violence against women and to provide reparations for such violence.

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. 139/23

3:36 PM