Press Release

IACHR Condemns the 37 Violent Deaths in a Venezuelan Detention Facility

August 25, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the violent deaths of at least 37 prison inmates at the Amazonas Judicial Detention Center, located in the state of Amazonas, Venezuela. The IACHR urges the State to investigate the events with due diligence and clarify the circumstances in which they occurred; where appropriate, identify and punish those responsible; and take the necessary steps to ensure that similar events do not happen again.

According to publicly available information, in the early morning hours of August 16, 2017, at least 37 prison inmates lost their lives, and 14 security officers were injured, at the Amazonas Judicial Detention Center, in the city of Puerto Ayacucho. The casualties were the result of clashes that occurred when members of the Bolivarian National Police and the Bolivarian National Guard went in to take control of the facility and conduct a search. According to the governor of the state of Amazonas, Liborio Guarulla, those who died accounted for 46 percent of the total population of this detention center. The IACHR also observes that these events took place in lockups known as calabozos, run by the Ministry of the Interior. The IACHR has repeatedly expressed its concern about these jails, given their high levels of overcrowding, the deplorable conditions, and the fact that they function as “indefinite” prison facilities for people held in pretrial detention.

It is of particular concern to the Commission that the acts of violence resulting from this confrontation, had resulted in the lost of the lives of approximately 40% of the total population detained in the CDJA. The IACHR reminds that the detention facilities staff must use force in cases of seriousness, urgency and need, and as a last resource after having previously exhausted all other available avenues. Given the nature of the situation, the Venezuelan State is called to promplty initiate ex-officio  a serious, impartial, effective investigation, open to public scrutiny.

The IACHR has closely followed the prison situation in the State of Venezuela through various mechanisms, and notes that these serious events have taken place in the context of a prison crisis faced by persons deprived of liberty in Venezuela. This is characterized by, among other problems, high levels of overcrowding, excessive use of pretrial detention, corruption, deplorable conditions of incarceration, and high levels of violence. The Commission 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 potential outbreaks of violence in prisons. The State of Venezuela should also take steps to reduce overcrowding and the use of pretrial detention, through the use and implementation of alternative measures.

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 and to defend 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. 126/17