Press Release

IACHR Regrets Violence in Juvenile Detention Facilities in Fortaleza, Brazil

November 17, 2015

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding acts of violence in the San Miguel and San Francisco juvenile detention facilities in Fortaleza, Brazil. These incidents reportedly left one adolescent dead and another six injured.

According to publicly available information, on November 6, 2015, there were disturbances in two facilities for juvenile offenders: the San Miguel Detention Center and the San Francisco Detention Center, located next to each other in Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará, Brazil. The press reported that adolescents from both centers had lit mattresses and electrical appliances on fire and destroyed part of the facilities. The military police reportedly went in to control the situation. As a result of the operation, six adolescents reportedly were injured, and 17-year-old Márcio Ferreira do Nascimento lost his life. National authorities have reportedly not yet identified the origin of the gunshot that killed the teen.

The Inter-American Commission observes with concern that this death took place in a context of repeated acts of violence in facilities for juvenile offenders in the state of Ceará. Specifically, the IACHR has received consistent information concerning deficiencies in Ceará detention facilities that create the conditions for these types of incidents to occur with certain regularity. Just in the past month, there have reportedly been 15 disturbances in juvenile detention facilities in the state of Ceará. According to information received by the Commission, these centers are characterized by significant overcrowding, unsafe infrastructure, violence on the part of prison staff, poor nutrition, riots, and escapes. In addition, the adolescent offenders reportedly spend most of the day in their cells, and there are no social and educational activities geared toward their reintegration into society.

Following the acts of violence in the two detention centers, the 340 adolescents being held there were reportedly relocated to different facilities. According to press reports, 151 adolescents were transferred to a military prison, 101 were taken to the facilities of a school that had closed in 2013, another 27 were taken to the Dom Bosco Educational Center, and 61 were kept in areas of the San Miguel facility that were not affected by the disturbance. According to statements made by the authorities responsible for these adolescents, the military prison will be turned into a provisional custody center. The state of Ceará’s Public Defender’s Office expressed its concern regarding these transfers and filed a class-action habeas corpus claim due to the conditions of confinement in which the adolescents are reportedly being held in the military prison, and asked that they be transferred elsewhere. According to the Public Defender’s Office, these military facilities have not been adapted to house adolescents, who do not have access to necessary services such as socio-educational and reintegration programs. 

The IACHR reiterates that the State, as guarantor of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty, has the inescapable duty to take concrete steps to guarantee inmates’ rights to life and physical integrity, particularly measures to prevent and control outbreaks of violence in prisons. Along these lines, the IACHR reiterates that based on Article 19 of the American Convention, in the case of adolescents deprived of their liberty, the State must undertake its role as guarantor with greater care and responsibility, and must undertake special measures in the light of the principle of the child’s best interests. Moreover, in accordance with standards of international human rights law, adolescents deprived of their liberty must not be subjected to situations of violence or situations that jeopardize their physical integrity, dignity, and development. Facilities for juvenile offenders must be adapted for adolescents and be in a position to offer social and educational programs provided by specialized staff.

Moreover, the Commission calls to mind that the State has the obligation to investigate through its own due diligence the death of all persons who died while under its custody. These investigations must seek to identify not only the perpetrators but also the possible masterminds, as well as any authorities who by action or omission may be responsible. The Commission also calls on the State of Brazil to evaluate the various aspects of the incarceration conditions in these facilities, and to take any corrective measures that may be necessary in accordance with the minimum conditions established under international human rights law concerning the deprivation of liberty of adolescents, especially with regard to activities that are essential for their development and their reintegration into society.

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. 130/15