Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Deaths of People Deprived of Their Liberty in Brazilian Prisons

January 11, 2018

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the acts of violence that took place at a detention center in the state of Goiás, Brazil, which led to at least 9 deaths and 14 injuries. The IACHR urges the state of Brazil to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which these events took place and to identify and punish those responsible for them.

According to publicly available information, on January 1, 2018, a riot broke out in the Semiresidential Agribusiness Penitentiary in Aparecida de Goiania, in the state of Goiás. At a press conference, the Prison Administration Superintendent of Goiás said that the riot was caused by clashes between two rival organized crime groups. Most of the bodies of the nine fatal victims were allegedly burned and two of them had been decapitated.

The IACHR notes that the authorities are investigating these events. In this regard, the IACHR wishes to stress that states are obliged to initiate ex officio investigations into all deaths of people in their custody and conduct these with due diligence. These investigations should not only seek to establish who was responsible for carrying out the crimes in question but should also identify those who may have masterminded them and any authorities who by their actions or omissions may also be responsible.

The IACHR notes with the greatest of concern that these deaths were caused in a context of repeated acts of violence within the Brazilian penitentiary system, in which severe overcrowding and substandard conditions of detention are endemic. Following these violent events, a commission made up of various authorities from the state of Goiás, including members of the Court of Justice, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office, inspected the prison and concluded that the events were the result of “a series of long-standing conflicts and the lack of effective action on the part of the prison authorities to prevent them from happening, in addition to delays in legal proceedings.”

The state of Brazil is the guarantor of the fundamental rights of people deprived of their liberty in the country and is thus legally bound to take concrete steps to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of all people who are deprived of their liberty. As part of this obligation, the state must take steps to prevent and control potential outbreaks of violence at detention centers, such as by disarming prisoners and imposing effective controls to prevent weapons and other illegal objects from entering prison facilities; investigating and punishing acts of violence and corruption that take place within prison facilities; and preventing criminal organizations from operating within these.

“It is unreasonable to expect there to be rehabilitation or social reintegration when those who are deprived of their freedom are being held in facilities that are completely substandard, where rates of prison violence are high, authorities treat inmates in cruel, inhuman, and degrading fashions, the prisoners themselves are effectively in control of internal security, and the state does not guarantee minimum basic standards in terms of space, food, drinking water, sanitary conditions, medical care, and other basic services,” said the IACHR rapporteur on the rights of people deprived of their liberty, Commissioner Joel Hernández. “The absence of public policies that aim to rehabilitate and reintegrate people who have been sentenced to prison into society generates a cycle of social exclusion and recidivism,” he added.

The IACHR and the IA Court have made multiple recommendations to the state of Brazil through the different mechanisms at their disposal. The IACHR has granted precautionary measures and processed petitions and cases on the subject, conducted public hearings, visited detention centers, and issued press releases. In 2017, the IACHR spoke out against the acts of violence that took place at four detention centers in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, which led to nearly a hundred deaths. Likewise, in 2016 it warned about the violence in Brazilian prisons that allegedly led to the deaths of 54 people who were being deprived of their liberty.

“In recent years, the IACHR has repeatedly called on the state of Brazil to adopt urgent measures to tackle the serious challenges facing the penitentiary system throughout the country,” said the IACHR rapporteur for Brazil, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola. “The state of Brazil must take immediate decisive action to prevent any further such events from occurring and to ensure that the living conditions of all people who are deprived of their liberty are dignified, in accordance with inter-American standards on this matter.”

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. 003/18