Press Release

IACHR Concerned over Violent Deaths in Brazilian Prison

August 28, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses deep consternation over the death of four inmates and injuries to many others at the State penitentiary in the city of Cascavel, state of Parana, Brazil. The IACHR urges the State to adopt all measures necessary to prevent similar incidents from happening again and to investigate and punish those responsible.

According to official information released by the Department of Correction of the state of Parana, inmates decapitated two other inmates and threw three other inmates off the roof of a cellblock, two of whom died later in the hospital. In addition, an uncertain number of inmates were wounded. These deaths took place in the context of a riot that began on Saturday when the prisoners, demanding better living conditions and more flexible visiting hours, overpowered guards, burned mattresses and damaged cells. Local media reported that the prison housed just over 1,040 inmates, and that 800 of them allegedly participated in the uprising. The riot ended on Tuesday after officials transferred all the inmates elsewhere and rioters released two guards they had held hostage.

In light of these events, the IACHR reiterates that States have a basic duty to ensure control and security inside prisons, as guarantors of the rights of persons deprived of liberty. The authorities must maintain proper order in prisons as an inherent obligation to guarantee prisoners’ human rights. Additionally, they have the obligation to investigate ex officio and with due diligence any deaths of individuals in their custody, and to punish those responsible for such deaths. The Commission also calls upon the State to provide adequate medical treatment to those inmates who were injured in the riot.

Brazil is among the countries in the region with the most people in prison. In mid-2012 there were 549,577 persons in prison, 508,357 of whom were in the penitentiary system and 41,220 were in the custody of state police forces. Of those held in the penitentiary system, 191,024 were in pretrial detention, and 27.2% of them are between 18 and 24 years old. Prisons in Brazil are poorly resourced and some are under the control of powerful crime gangs. Earlier this year the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called for an investigation into the high number of violent deaths in Brazil's prisons after previous riots in a jail in the north of the country left dozens of people dead.

In this context, the Inter-American Commission urgently calls on Brazilian authorities at the various levels of government and within the competent agencies to adopt appropriate measures, including structural reforms, to prevent future outbreaks of violence in the country’s prisons. To this effect, concrete measures the State should adopt include: disarming the prison population and imposing effective controls to prevent the entry of weapons and other illicit objects; increasing the security and surveillance staff inside prisons; reducing levels of overcrowding; investigating and punishing acts of violence and corruption that take place in prison facilities; and preventing the activities of criminal organizations with a presence 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 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. 92/14