Press Release

IACHR Deplores Violent Deaths at Educational Facility for Adolescents in Paraguay

May 6, 2014

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its deep concern over the violent deaths of two teenagers at the Itauguá (formerly “Panchito López”) Comprehensive Educational Center, in Paraguay’s Central department. The Commission urges the State of Paraguay to adopt the necessary measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, and to investigate and punish those responsible.

According to the information received, a riot took place at the Itauguá Educational Center on April 21, 2014. The available information indicates that actions by agents of the State, specifically the staff responsible for guarding the center, led to two adolescents dying and three others being injured. The information also indicates that one of the inmates escaped from the facility during these events.

According to an official press release from the Ministry of Justice, “the guards were carrying firearms, with non-regulation projectiles.” This is consistent with the findings of the autopsy, which showed that the deaths of the two young people came about as a result of gunfire from shotguns with multiple lead projectiles. Moreover, according to a preliminary report from the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (MNP), three adolescents were hit in the face and back with rubber bullets, and received medical attention six hours after the events.

On this point, the IACHR reiterates that the State, as guarantor of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty, has a binding legal obligation to take concrete steps to ensure prisoners’ rights to life and physical integrity, particularly those measures geared toward preventing and controlling possible outbreaks of violence in prisons. In this regard, the IACHR again points out that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights established in 2004, in its judgment in the Case of the “Juvenile Reeducation Institute” v. Paraguay, that when those deprived of liberty are children, the State “has the same obligations it has regarding to any person, yet 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.”

Along these lines the Commission emphatically stresses that the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty provide that “[i]nstruments of restraint and force can only be used in exceptional cases, where all other control methods have been exhausted and failed, and only as explicitly authorized by law and regulation,” and that “[t]he carrying and use of weapons by personnel should be prohibited in any facility where juveniles are detained.” Even non-lethal or incapacitating weapons should be used in accordance with the principles of necessity and proportionality, first making every effort to use other, non-harmful means. The personnel at juvenile incarceration facilities should receive special training in accordance with the characteristics of this prison population.

In addition, the Commission notes with concern that, according to testimony provided to the MNP by inmates at the Itauguá Educational Center, this facility is seriously deficient in critical aspects such as the food provided to the adolescents.

Moreover, the Commission believes that a grave structural problem of the juvenile justice system is the fact that, as UNICEF has noted, the majority of incarcerated adolescents have not been convicted. In this regard, the IACHR reiterates that when it comes to children and adolescents, the criteria of whether pretrial detention is warranted should be applied more rigorously, seeking greater use of other precautionary measures or trial in freedom. When preventive detention is warranted, it should be applied for the shortest possible duration and be subject to frequent review.

The Inter-American Commission urges the State to investigate the incidents at the Itauguá Educational Center of its own accord and establish the appropriate criminal responsibility. It also calls on the State to evaluate the various aspects of incarceration conditions at this facility and take any necessary corrective measures in accordance with the minimum conditions established under international human rights law for the deprivation of liberty of children and adolescents, particularly as it relates to the food provided to the inmates and to activities essential to their development, as the Inter-American Court established in its judgment regarding the former “Panchito López” Juvenile Reeducation Institute.

In addition, the Commission urges the Paraguayan authorities to effectively monitor the security mechanisms available in the country’s facilities for juvenile incarceration, and in particular to adopt the appropriate measures to completely eliminate the use of firearms, in order to prevent a repetition of events such as those that happened at the Itauguá Educational Center.

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. 50/14