Press Release

IACHR Reiterates Need to Prevent Acts of Violence in Venezuelan Prison

February 22, 2011

Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern for those who died or were wounded at the Center-West Region Prison in Venezuela, known as Uribana Prison, as a result of the practice called "The Coliseum." The Commission reiterates to the State the need to take immediate and effective steps to prevent such incidents from happening again.

According to the information the Commission has received, on Tuesday, February 15, and Wednesday, February 16, 2011, two inmates lost their lives and at least 54 were wounded in acts of violence that took place at Uribana Prison, specifically as a result of the practice known as The Coliseum. These acts of violence were reportedly linked to rivalries among prisoners.

In November 2010, the Inter-American Commission expressed its concern over The Coliseum, which consists of group fights that are periodically organized and planned by the inmates. The IACHR at that time urgently called on the prison authorities to exercise effective control of internal security at Uribana Prison and to put an end to this practice.

The Inter-American Commission believes that the fact that this aberrant, bloodthirsty practice known as The Coliseum continues to take place manifests the prison authorities' lack of effective control. These group fights take place in the prison's open areas, at any time of the day, under the passive watch of the security forces. Despite this having become a publicly known phenomenon, widely reported by the local and international media, the State has yet to take concrete steps to keep it from happening again. In this regard, the IACHR reiterates that the State is in the position of guarantor with respect to persons deprived of liberty, and as such it has the absolute obligation to guarantee the rights to life and to humane treatment of those in its custody.

In February 2007, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights granted provisional measures with respect to this prison and required that the State "adopt forthwith and definitively all such provisional measures as are necessary and effective to prevent the loss of lives and the harm to the physical, mental and moral integrity of all persons deprived of liberty in the Uribana Prison."

The IACHR believes that the situation at Uribana Prison is illustrative of a prison reality that is much broader and more complex, characterized essentially by the Venezuelan authorities' incapacity to control internal security in prisons and thus to guarantee the life and humane treatment of prisoners. The result of these serious structural deficiencies is evidenced in the numbers of violent deaths that occur every year in Venezuela's prisons. According to information the State itself has provided, in the 2005-2009 period 1,865 inmates died and 4,358 were injured in acts of prison violence.

Along these lines, the IACHR reiterates to the State that the grave situation in Venezuelan prisons demands that the Venezuelan State implement actions that would have an immediate impact on the situation of risk being faced by those held in State custody. The Commission also urges the State to immediately adopt any necessary measures to bring detention conditions in Venezuelan prisons in line with international standards, and to take immediate steps, in addition to any medium- or long-term plans, to guarantee the life and personal integrity of persons deprived of liberty in Venezuela.

The concrete measures that both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have indicated to Venezuela on various occasions include: (a) reducing prison overpopulation and overcrowding; (b) confiscating and preventing the entry of weapons and illicit substances into prisons; (c) establishing effective systems to guarantee a separation between those being prosecuted and those who have been convicted; (d) staffing prisons with enough security guards who are trained and given the necessary means to properly carry out their duties; and (e) conduct serious, effective investigations into the acts of violence that take place inside prisons.

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. 14/11