Press Release

IACHR Deplores Violent Death of 59 Persons in Venezuelan Prison

January 31, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the acts of violence in the Penitentiary Center of the Central Western Region of Venezuela, also known as Uribana prison. The Inter-American Commission reiterates to the Venezuelan State its obligation to adopt urgent measures in order to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of all persons deprived of liberty in Venezuela.

According to public information, on January 25, 2013 violent acts took place, during which firearms were shot inside the Uribana jail. According to the Minister of Popular Power for the Penitentiary Service, 58 inmates and a guard died, and several dozen persons were injured.

Proper control by the authorities of internal order inside prisons is an essential condition in order to guarantee the human rights of persons deprived of liberty. In addition, regarding the Uribana prison, provisional measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) on February 2, 2007, are still in place. Through those measures, the IA Court required that the State “to confiscate the weapons kept by the inmates,” among other measures “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, [and] of all persons who might be kept in prison in such penitentiary center in the future.” In addition to the serious acts of violence that originated the granting of precautionary measures of the IA Court and other subsequent acts of violence in the Uribana prison, the Inter-American Commission energetically called the attention of the State twice regarding the practice called “The Coliseum” in this center. This practice consists of group fights with knives periodically organized and planned by the inmates.

The States, as guarantors of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, must adopt all necessary measures to protect the life and personal integrity of the inmates. In this sense, the States have the fundamental obligation to ensure the control and internal security of prisons and must in no way abandon this inherent duty.

Likewise, States have the obligation to investigate, on its own initiative and with due diligence, all deaths of persons under its custody. The IACHR took notice that the Executive Branch has requested the Prosecutor’s Office to initiate an investigation. This investigation must aim to establish the material perpetrators of the crimes, and the possible intellectual authors, as well as any degree of responsibility that the authorities might have, either by action or omission.

On another note, the IACHR saw that the Minister on Penitentiary Services said that articles published by some private media outlets, such as the TV channel Globovision, “sparked the violence.” In addition, the Minister informed that entry to the penitentiary was allowed only to public media outlets, in view of the security risks involved.

The IACHR is concerned on declarations of Government officials saying that the acts of violence in a prison are the responsibility of communications media on account of having published information of public interest that had been provided by Government authorities. In addition, it is of concern that selective restrictions are imposed in the access to official information.

The Inter-American Commission reiterates its disposition to cooperate with the State of Venezuela in the task of protecting the human rights of all persons and to ensure compliance with the international responsibility of protection and guarantee of human rights.

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 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. 8/13