Press Release

IACHR Deplores Violent Deaths in Venezuelan Prison

September 20, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses is concern over the violent deaths of 16 inmates from the Maracaibo National Prison (Sabaneta Prison) in the Venezuelan state of Zulia. The IACHR urges the State to investigate the events and punish the perpetrators, and to take the appropriate steps to ensure that similar incidents do not happen again.

According to information that has been widely disseminated and corroborated by State authorities, on September 16-17, 2013, 16 inmates were killed and 5 injured in clashes between inmates in the Sabaneta Prison. The information received indicates that the violence involved a confrontation between rival criminal gangs operating inside the prison. The inmates reportedly used high-caliber firearms and explosive devices.

According to information the Commission has received, over the course of 2012, 45 inmates died in Sabaneta Prison, and 69 have died so far this year. During public hearings held by the Commission, it was reported that in 2010, eight people died and six were injured in that prison.

Given these events, the IACHR must once again emphasize that States, as guarantors of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, have a basic duty to ensure control and security inside prisons. This is essential to guarantee prisoners’ human rights, an obligation that States must not relinquish under any circumstance. This means public authorities must maintain effective order inside prisons and not simply guard the outside or perimeter.

States also have an obligation to investigate ex officio and with the necessary due diligence any deaths of persons within their custody, as well as instances in which weapons and ammunition are brought illegally into prisons.

Finally, the Commission is concerned about the serious overcrowding in Sabaneta Prison. According to the information received, this prison was built to house 700 inmates, but at the time of these events the prison population was 3,689. On this point, the IACHR has stated numerous times that prison overcrowding is a determining factor in producing a climate of violence among inmates, in addition to being a violation in itself of prisoners’ rights to personal integrity.

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 an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 70/13