Press Release

IACHR Deplores Deaths in Fire at Juvenile Detention Center in Panama

January 18, 2011

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) deplores the death of four adolescents and the serious injuries suffered by several others in a fire at the Juvenile Detention Center in Tocumen, in the province of Panama. The IACHR urgently calls on the State to adopt the necessary measures to duly investigate these events and keep them from happening again.

According to the information the Commission has received, on the afternoon of January 9 a fire broke out in a cell at the Juvenile Detention Center in Tocumen, seriously injuring seven adolescents. So far, four of them have died.

The Inter-American Commission reiterates that the State holds a special position as guarantor when it comes to the rights of persons deprived of liberty. This means that the act of incarceration implies a specific, material commitment by the State to guarantee the life and humane treatment of those who are incarcerated. This obligation to guarantee implies that the State must take all necessary measures to prevent situations of risk, such as this one, that may pose serious threats to the fundamental rights of those in custody. The Inter-American Commission views with utmost concern information provided by various organizations, including the Office of the Ombudsman of Panama, indicating that the agents in charge of security at the Juvenile Detention Center failed to act with due diligence to safeguard the adolescents' life and physical integrity.

The IACHR calls to mind what the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated in this regard, namely that in the case of the right to life, when the State deprives a child of his or her liberty, it has the same obligations it has regarding any person, compounded by the added obligation established in Article 19 of the American Convention. On the one hand, it must be all the more diligent and responsible in its role as guarantor and must take special measures based on the principle of the best interests of the child.

Finally, the Inter-American Commission reiterates that the State has the obligation to prevent, investigate, and punish alleged violations of the right to life and humane treatment, particularly when these occur in prisons. In this regard, the absence of a serious, diligent, and impartial investigation would lead to a situation of impunity and contribute to the recurrence of similar events.

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 human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.


No. 2/11