IACHR Calls for Immediate Release of All Individuals Detained for Political Reasons in the Americas

December 29, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression condemn the intense misuse of the judiciary in the Americas to persecute individuals and prevent freedom of expression and freedom of thought and to deprive people of liberty for political reasons. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship are concerned about the appalling conditions of detention that these individuals are subjected to and call for immediate action to ensure their release.

For decades, the IACHR has monitored with concern the persistence of arbitrary arrests and the misuse of criminal law to persecute individuals who are critical of incumbent governments based on political and ideological grounds and individuals who legitimately exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, as well as the defense of human rights. The Commission constantly receives reports about the use of deprivation of liberty—with a discretionary and excessive use of pretrial detention—as a mechanism to control, censor, and retaliate against these individuals, complete with violations of due process and of the right to judicial protection.

These practices have been reported in several countries in the Americas. However, they are mainly used by authoritarian governments who seek to subject the judiciary to the control of the executive, willfully ignoring the principle of the separation of powers. The judiciary's independence and autonomy are essential components of the rule of law, as well as basic elements to ensure the exercise of the rights to due process and access to justice. The IACHR has already addressed the absence of the rule of law and of representative democracy in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Concerning Cuba, Prisoners Defenders reports that, by November 30, 2022, 1,034 individuals were being deprived of liberty for political reasons in the country. Concerning Venezuela, according to the organization Foro Penal, 247 individuals—14 women and 233 men; 115 civilians and 132 members of the military—remained deprived of liberty for political reasons there by October 31, 2022. Concerning Nicaragua, the organization Mecanismo para el Reconocimiento de Personas Presas Políticas en Nicaragua, reported that 195 individuals—19 women and 176 men—remained deprived of liberty in the country by September 30, 2022. In this context, at the IACHR's request, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has granted and expanded temporary measures in favor of victims of arbitrary arrests and their families. 

The IACHR warns that, in these countries, individuals who are deprived of liberty for political reasons receive differentiated treatment based on the grounds for their arrest, which has caused serious deterioration in the health of several of them and, in some cases, puts their lives and personal integrity at risk.

Some forms of this differentiated treatment include the following: 1) lack of official information concerning the prisoner's fate, including the place where they are being held; 2) use of isolation and incommunicado regimes; 3) lack of timely specialized medical care; 4) lack of access to drinking water and adequate food; 5) unsanitary conditions; 6) hurdles that prevent regular, direct, and dignified contact with their families, including their children; 7) restricted visits over long periods; and 8) use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Further, women who are deprived of liberty for political reasons face a differentiated impact based on their gender, including gender-based violence, torture and other forms of ill-treatment as a tool for punishment, repression, and humiliation for their historic role as social leaders. In the specific case of trans women who are prisoners of conscience, Prisoners Defenders has documented that they are sometimes held with men, which leads to multiple forms of violence. There are also reports about women who have been sent to detention facilities far away from their families, as a form of retaliation or punishment for their political activism.

The IACHR stresses States' obligation to protect the physical integrity of all individuals in State custody and to ensure conditions of detention that respect human dignity. States must also provide official, up-to-date information concerning these individuals' situation and enable regular, direct contact between detainees and their families.

Individuals who are deprived of liberty for political reasons face heightened risks of being subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, so the Commission stresses States' duty to prevent, fight, and punish these instances by adopting measures with a gender perspective and a differentiated focus.

The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship urge States in the Americas to release all individuals who remain deprived of liberty for political reasons, and to respect and preserve their lives and personal integrity. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression further ask States to take humanitarian action to assess these individuals' conditions of detention and to improve those conditions, among others by enabling visits by family members and lawyers, in keeping with international law. States must also ensure respect for all safeguards of the rights to a defense and to due process held in the American Convention on Human Rights and in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, as well as the rights to access an adequate defense and to be tried in a reasonable timeframe by a judiciary whose independence and impartiality are protected from abuse by other branches of government.

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. 288/22

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