Press Release

IACHR Condemns Acts of Violence against Incarcerated Adolescents in Uruguay

August 18, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the acts of violence allegedly committed by public employees of Uruguay’s Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) against minors being held at the Deprivation of Liberty Center (Ceprili) in Montevideo, Uruguay. The IACHR urges the State to continue with the court-ordered investigations underway, punish those responsible, and adopt measures to ensure that similar events are not repeated.

According to the information available and a video from security cameras at the detention center, two adolescents being held at the facility had started disturbances on July 24, 2015, in the section where the cells are located, while INAU employees were at a union meeting in the same building. More than 30 INAU employees entered the cell area and perpetrated acts of violence against the inmates, who at the time they were attacked were unarmed and who at no time in the video are seen to be putting up resistance. The public officers threw the adolescents to the floor and attacked them with punches and kicks. They then used fire extinguishers to take control of other adolescents by making it hard for them to breathe.

 “The video is profoundly disturbing,” said the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, Commissioner Rosa María Ortiz. “These public officers are obligated to accord decent treatment to the adolescents who are under the State’s responsibility, deprived of liberty in the context of a process meant to rehabilitate them. Violence only teaches violence, and what happened must be investigated to determine culpability for these acts of despicable and inhuman treatment. Moreover, the State should implement measures to ensure non-repetition.”

The information received indicates that leaders from the INAU workers union told the news media that the events depicted in this video are “usual” practices at detention centers for adolescents in Uruguay. “We are particularly concerned about statements that seem to indicate that these events were not an exception but a widespread practice,” the Rapporteur added. “The State has already received many recommendations from the various human rights bodies. State authorities should urgently adopt measures of non-repetition, such as restorative justice practices, protocols that favor dialogue over confrontation, and programs for alternative and non-violent solutions to conflicts. For that to happen, the State ought to create the necessary structural and administrative conditions, with suitable staff, and rid itself of employees who do not take part in these practices.”

The Rapporteur also stressed that “the juvenile justice system does not begin when an adolescent commits a crime, but rather with preventive steps at the local level to discourage crime, through alternative proposals.” She also reiterated the importance of working with properly trained professionals to reach these individuals where they are. “Various studies show that adolescents get involved in crimes for money in order to ‘be somebody,’ to find a sense of identity, affirmation, and belonging that society does not offer them. Prevention programs, therefore, should address the causes with appropriate and meaningful proposals geared to where young people are and to their needs. These programs should not only listen to young people and include them, but protect them from organized crime, which uses them, taking advantage of their defenselessness.”

The Rapporteur visited Uruguay’s adolescent detention centers in 2014 and observed inhuman conditions, complaints of torture and mistreatment, a lack of trained staff, and a lack of educational and recreational activities geared toward rehabilitation and reintegration. In its periodic review of Uruguay carried out that year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its concern over “reports of excessive use of force and collective punishments in detention facilities, [and] children and adolescents being locked up in their cells….” Other organizations have expressed their concern regarding this issue, including the National Human Rights Institute of Uruguay in December 2014 and the World Organisation against Torture in March 2015. 

The IACHR reiterates its satisfaction over the rejection of the proposed lowering of the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 years old, through a referendum held in October 2014. The IACHR also welcomes the initiative to create the System for Adolescent Criminal Responsibility (SIRPA) to coordinate the implementation of socio-educational measures, and urges the State to ensure that the proper funding, structure, and trained staff are in place for the successful reintegration of adolescent offenders into society.

However, the Inter-American Commission expresses its concern over legislative changes aggravating the penalties imposed on adolescents in the juvenile justice system, with the entry into force of Law 19.055. Another matter of concern is the excessive use of deprivation of liberty over the adoption of alternative socio-educational measures conducive to rehabilitation and social reintegration. “People think that the place for a young offender is in jail, and they don’t understand why this measure doesn’t work. Today we know that jail does not reeducate, and it is a place where organized crime becomes stronger. It is time to opt decisively for prevention and restorative justice,” the IACHR Rapporteur said.

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. 090/15