Press Release

IACHR Laments Deaths in Prison Fire in Paraguay

July 11, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) laments the deaths of five inmates and the head of security at the Tacumbú National Penitentiary in Asunción, Paraguay. The IACHR calls on the State to ensure that the investigations that are underway are conducted with due diligence and without delays, and that urgent steps are taken to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

According to publicly available information, on June 10, 2016, a fire took place at the Tacumbú National Penitentiary, in which five inmates—David Roberto Fraser Gamarra, César Herrera Bogado, Francisco Javier Benítez Cristaldo, Alfredo Maciel, and Daniel Salinas— lost their lives, along with the prison’s Chief of Security, Blas Gaona Acosta. According to information from the Ministry of Justice, the Chief of Security died of asphyxiation after trying to evacuate other prisoners. In addition to those who died, 10 prisoners were injured.

The Ministry of Justice informed the IACHR that a number of measures have been taken, such as the creation of commissions to regularize blueprints and verify electrical and fire-prevention systems, and the beginning of a process to inspect the current state of all systems in every prison facility in the country, with support from Volunteer Fire Departments and the National Electricity Administration in each region. In addition, the Office of Internal Affairs and Anti-Corruption, along with the General Office of the Legal Counsel, were ordered to present a final report within one month of the incident, in order to determine the cause of the fire.

The IACHR urges the State to ensure that the investigation is conducted with due diligence. States have the obligation to conduct serious, diligent, and impartial investigations into incidents in places of deprivation of liberty in which people die or are injured. These investigations should shed light on what occurred and result in the punishment of anyone who may bear some degree of responsibility, and should constitute a means of redress for the victims. In addition, the authorities have a duty to inform the victims’ family members regarding the investigation into what occurred. The State should also provide appropriate psychological assistance to family members of victims and to survivors who may have suffered serious effects.

The IACHR also observes that, according to information from Paraguay’s Ministry of Justice, although the Tacumbú National Penitentiary has the capacity to house 1,687 prisoners, it has a population of 3,328. In this context, the Inter-American Commission reiterates that prison overcrowding not only constitutes in itself a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, but is a factor that jeopardizes the life and personal integrity of those who are incarcerated in a particular facility. It is therefore imperative for national authorities to take all measures that may be necessary to ensure that prison facilities do not hold more inmates than they are equipped to house based on their real capacity.

The IACHR reiterates that States hold a special position as guarantors of the rights of persons deprived of liberty. Consequently, confinement entails a specific and essential commitment of States to ensure the lives and safety of inmates. This “duty to ensure” means that States must take all necessary measures to prevent situations of risk, such as the one in this case, from seriously jeopardizing inmates’ fundamental rights. Along these lines, States have the obligation to ensure that prisons have adequate, safe structures and the appropriate means, action plans, and sufficient, trained staff in place to maintain security in prisons and to handle emergency situations, such as fires.

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. 093/16