Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Death of at least Four People in a Guatemalan Jail

August 28, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the violence in a prison in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, which resulted in at least four persons being killed and four injured. The IACHR urges the State of Guatemala to take the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of these events and to investigate and punish those responsible.

On August 19, 2018, a riot took place at the Cantel Rehabilitation Penal Farm, in the department of Quetzaltenango. According to publicly available information, the violence resulted from a fight between rival groups. Allegedly, firearms and a fragmentation grenade were used. In addition, according to statements by the prison authorities to the press, the riot was controlled by the elite group of the General Directorate of the Penitentiary System and by special forces of the National Civil Police. Según información pública, el 20 de agosto las autoridades penitenciarias y agentes de la Policía Nacional Civil habrían realizado una requisa al interior del recinto penitenciario.

On the other hand, public statements by the spokesperson of the Penitentiary System indicate that members of the Public Prosecutor's Office accompanied the placement of the bodies of the deceased in the isolation area in order to initiate the relevant investigations. In this regard, the Commission calls upon the State of Guatemala to carry out such investigations with due diligence, and not only to determine the responsibility of the material perpetrators of the acts, but also of the possible intellectual authors and of those authorities that might be responsible for the act or omission.

The Commission recalls that States, as guarantors of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of their liberty, have an inescapable legal duty to take concrete action to guarantee their rights to life and personal integrity. As part of this obligation, States must take action to prevent and control possible outbreaks of violence in prisons. In this regard, the Commission urges the State to take concrete measures, such as: disarming detainees and imposing effective controls to prevent the entry of arms and other illegal objects; increasing security and surveillance personnel inside prisons; ensuring that their training is conducted in accordance with prison detention standards; and preventing the actions of criminal organizations with a presence in prisons.

"The events that took place in the Quetzaltenango prison reflect the lack of effective measures to guarantee the life and integrity of the persons in the custody of the State, in particular, to control access to firearms and other devices that constitute a serious risk to them," said Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of their Liberty. "In this context, it is essential that the Guatemalan State take urgent measures to prevent the presence of firearms in its prisons," he added.

In addition, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Country Rapporteur, lamented the loss of life. "I express my concern about events that led to the loss of lives," she said.

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. 190/18