Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over the Information about La Modelo Prison in Colombia

February 25, 2016

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the information made public by the Office of the Public Prosecutor from Colombia about the alleged disappearance and dismemberment of at least 100 people between the years of 1999 and 2001 in the prison La Modelo, located in Bogota. 

According to media reports, Prosecutor Caterina Heyck Puyana, director of Coordination of Specialized National Public Prosecution Offices in Colombia (Articulación de Fiscalías Nacionales Especializadas), declared that at least 100 people have disappeared between 1999 and 2001, from the prison La Modelo, in Bogota. The victims were allegedly dismembered and then thrown in the prison’s pipes. The prosecutor informed that the exact number of victims may be “much larger” than 100, and includes inmates and their families, as well as people unrelated to the prison. The Office of the Public Prosecutor is investigating if similar cases also occurred in the prisons of Bucaramanga, Popayán and Barranquilla. 

On February 17, 2016, the Office of the Prosecutor made this information public after conducting inspections in La Modelo prison, which is one of the most overcrowded penitentiaries in Colombia. According to the information received, these incidents took place during a period when the authorities themselves acknowledged prisoners controlled this prison, and that they had guns inside it. The Prosecutor informed the disappearances occurred in the patio controlled by the ex-paramilitary Mario Jaimes Mejía, known as “El Panadero”. 

The IACHR hopes the Office of the Public Prosecutor continues to advance in the investigation with due diligence to clarify the facts, so the judiciary can determine responsibilities and sanction the perpetrators. These investigations must not only aim to establish the material perpetrators of the crimes, but also the possible intellectual authors, and any degree of responsibility that the authorities might have, either by action or omission.

Likewise, the Commission urges the State of Colombia to implement the necessary measures to prevent the repetition of similar incidents, especially to adopt measures to adequate the conditions of detention in La Modelo prison and other detention centers to international standards, and to protect the life and personal integrity of the people private of liberty. The State has the fundamental obligation to ensure the control and internal security of prisons, and it must control the entry of guns and illegal substances, and the circulation of money inside the prisons. Furthermore, it must implement mechanisms to decrease overcrowding and overpopulation in the detentions centers.

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. 020/16