Press Release

IACHR Condemns Acts of Violence in Detention Facilities in Pernambuco, Brazil

November 23, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over acts of violence that took place in two juvenile detention facilities in Pernambuco, Brazil. The information the Commission has received indicates that 11 inmates lost their lives and another 11 were injured in these incidents.

According to publicly available information, on October 25, 2016, a riot at the Timbaúba Socio-Educational Services Foundation (Fundação de Atendimento Socioeducativo) left four adolescents dead and seven injured. Information provided to the IACHR indicates that one of the adolescents died in an isolation room where he was in handcuffs, which left him defenseless against his attackers. A few days later, on October 30, 2016, a riot at the Fundação de Atendimento Socioeducativo of Caruaru left seven adolescents dead and four injured. The authorities at the Caruaru detention facility confirmed that of the seven adolescents who died, one was decapitated and six died in the fire set by inmates during the riot.

The information received indicates that so far this year there have been 16 riots at 23 detention units in the juvenile correctional system in the state of Pernambuco. Also, according to information provided to the Commission, in recent years 40 adolescents have died in State custody as a result of riots at juvenile detention facilities in Brazil. The Inter-American Commission notes with concern that the recent acts of violence at the Timbaúba and Caruaru facilities occurred in a context of repeated violence in juvenile detention facilities. The IACHR notes that similar incidents have reportedly taken place in juvenile detention facilities in the states of Ceará and São Paulo; these resulted in precautionary measures being granted on December 31, 2015 (PM 60/15), and July 21, 2016 (PM 302/15). In a press release on November 17, 2015 (No. 130/15), the IACHR expressed its concern over similar incidents in the state of Ceará.

The state of Pernambuco has reportedly set up a commission to investigate what happened at both detention centers. The deadline for completing the investigations is 20 days, with the possibility of a 20-day extension. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission calls to mind that the State has the obligation to investigate through its own due diligence the death of anyone who dies in its custody. These investigations must seek to establish not only the perpetrators but also possible masterminds, as well as any authorities who by action or omission may be responsible.

The IACHR reiterates that the State, as guarantor of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty, has an inescapable legal 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 take special measures in the light of the principle of the best interests of the child. 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 personal integrity, dignity, and development. Facilities for juvenile offenders must be adapted for adolescents and must be in a position to offer them socio-educational programs provided by specialized staff.

The IACHR observes that the justice system for juvenile offenders in Brazil has for years been facing serious challenges in terms of guaranteeing the rights of adolescents deprived of their liberty. In this context, the IACHR expresses its concern over the proposed constitutional reforms and legislative changes that would make it possible to reduce the age of criminal responsibility and increase criminal penalties, against a backdrop of serious failings in juvenile detention facilities. The Commission has expressed its concern numerous times regarding the fact that when adolescents come into contact with the juvenile justice system, they are exposed to violations of their rights, instead of this being an opportunity to support their reintegration into society and prevent recidivism. The IACHR urges the State to redouble its efforts to prevent adolescents from becoming involved in criminal activities through a model of restorative justice and socio-educational measures that do not involve deprivation of liberty.

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. 175/16