Press Release

IACHR Regrets Violence in Detention Centers in Ceará, Brazil

June 16, 2016

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern regarding the recent acts of violence that took place in at least eight detention centers in the state of Ceará, Brazil. At least 18 inmates reportedly lost their lives as a result of these incidents.

According to publicly available information, a series of disturbances took place on Saturday, May 21, 2016, at Temporary Detention Centers I, II, III, and IV; the Caucaia and Camocim prisons; the “Auri Moura Costa” Women’s Prison; and the “Professor Otávio Lobo” General Prison Hospital and Sanatorium, all located in the state of Ceará. The disturbances, which extended into the following day (Sunday, May 22), broke out in reaction to the suspension of the visiting system as a result of a 24-hour strike by prison guards in that state. The press reported that inmates set fire to mattresses and destroyed parts of the facilities.

According to published information, on May 24 the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship (SEJUS) confirmed that 18 inmates had died as a result of the disturbances. The next day, the National Council of Justice (CNJ) reported via an official note that its president, Minister Ricardo Lewandowski, had ordered the Department of Monitoring and Oversight of Prisons and the System for the Implementation of Socio-educational Measures to work with the judiciary and the state government of Ceará to gather information regarding the situation of detention facilities in that state, in order to organize a broader strategy for action. The CNJ indicated in the note that the State of Ceará Court of Justice had previously expressed its interest in a project called Cidadania nos Presídios—which seeks to reduce prison overcrowding and improve detention conditions for persons deprived of liberty—as well as in electronic monitoring systems.

The Inter-American Commission observes with concern that these deaths have taken place in a context of repeated acts of violence in detention centers in the state of Ceará. In that regard, the IACHR notes that late last year, similar acts of violence reportedly took place in prisons in that state. This Commission referred to those incidents in its Press Release 130/15, dated November 17, 2015.

The IACHR reiterates that the State, as guarantor of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty, has the inescapable legal duty to take concrete steps to guarantee inmates’ rights to life and physical integrity, particularly measures to prevent and control potential outbreaks of violence in prisons. In this context, the Inter-American Commission urges the Brazilian authorities to adopt appropriate measures, including structural reforms, to prevent this type of violence, and to investigate these incidents with due diligence and without delay. To that effect, the IACHR calls on the Brazilian State to adopt concrete measures such as disarming inmates and imposing effective controls to keep weapons and other illicit items out of prisons; investigating and punishing any acts of violence and corruption that take place in correctional facilities; and ensuring that criminal organizations that have a presence in prisons are not able to operate.

Moreover, the IACHR understands that the violence that took place in these facilities occurred in a situation of overcrowding. According to publicly available information, some of the detention centers in Ceará are at double their capacity. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission reiterates that States should take steps to reduce overcrowding and the use of pretrial detention, by employing and implementing alternative measures. The IACHR has established that the use of precautionary measures other than pretrial detention is consistent with the principle of the exceptionality of pretrial detention and the right to presumption of innocence, and that such alternative measures tend to be sustainable and effective as part of a comprehensive strategy to address prison overcrowding.

In this context in which there have been acts of violence in detention centers, the IACHR calls on the Brazilian State to adopt urgent, decisive measures across the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, in consultation with civil society, to remedy the structural problems that have led to the recurrence of acts of violence.

A principal, autonomous body of the 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. 079/16