Press Release

IACHR Deplores Violent Deaths in Honduran Prisons

April 14, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the deaths of at least 12 prisoners as a result of various incidents of violence that have taken place in the past month at the National Penitentiaries of San Pedro Sula, Comayagua, and Támara (Tegucigalpa). The IACHR urges the State of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

According to publicly available information, in the morning hours of Wednesday, March 11, an exchange of heavy gunfire took place at the National Penitentiary of San Pedro Sula, leaving three inmates dead and more than 30 people wounded, including eight military police. According to the spokesman for the Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA), these events took place in the context of an operation to transfer certain high-risk inmates to other prisons. Once the riot had been brought under control, with the intervention of approximately 400 police and military personnel, a search was carried out in which high-caliber weapons were confiscated, including AK-47 assault rifles, as well as bulletproof vests, drugs and alcohol, cell phones, and other banned items. State security forces also transferred 32 inmates considered leaders (“coordinators”) to other prison facilities. All these events stemming from the prisoner transfer operation took place during a family visiting day at the prison.

On Saturday, March 28, a disturbance took place at the National Penitentiary of Comayagua which involved the use of firearms. Two prisoners lost their lives and at least three were seriously wounded. Following these events, some 42 inmates from this prison were reportedly transferred to other correctional facilities. A few days before these events, on March 24, another inmate had reportedly been killed in this prison as a result of being stabbed with a blade.

Moreover, according to widely reported accounts, on Sunday, March 29, a total of seven inmates with ties to the “Mara 18” gang were killed: four of them that afternoon at the National Penitentiary of Támara (“Marco Aurelio Soto”) in Tegucigalpa, and three that night at the National Penitentiary of San Pedro Sula. According to consistent accounts published by various media outlets, these seven inmates were executed by other members of their own gang.

All these grave acts of violence have been directly or indirectly related to the systematic transfer of inmates considered to be very dangerous to maximum-security prison units and cells that have recently been installed on military bases (infantry battalions). In all these cases, both the transfer operations and the subsequent control of these outbreaks of violence have been FUSINA’s responsibility.

In this context, the IACHR reiterates that States have the authority and the obligation to guarantee security and maintain public order inside prisons, using methods in line with the parameters established under international human rights law. In this sense, States not only must ensure that their agents exercise appropriate control over security and order in prisons; they must also adopt such measures as might be necessary to protect individuals in custody from possible attacks by third parties, including other inmates.

In its report on the situation of the rights of persons deprived of liberty in Honduras, the IACHR established that the absence of adequate security measures, supervision and control inside the prisons are one of the main structural problems that must be addressed by the State.

The IACHR urges the Honduran authorities to implement measures that will have a real impact on the situation of risk faced by persons deprived of liberty. This includes bringing detention conditions in prisons into line with international standards and adopting immediate steps, as well as medium- and long-term plans, to guarantee the life and humane treatment of persons deprived of liberty in Honduras. The State should, as a basic step, ensure and maintain the internal security of prisons and exercise control over the entry of weapons and illicit substances and the circulation of money inside prisons. It should also find ways to break up criminal organizations operating inside prison facilities.

The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the OAS, and derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance of 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 by the General Assembly of the OAS in a personal capacity and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 039/15