Press Release

IACHR Condemns Acts of Violence in Guatemalan Prison

Mayl 22, 2019

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the acts of violence at the Granja Penal Pavón prison in Guatemala, which led to at least seven deaths and 19 injuries. The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to investigate and clarify the circumstances in which these events took place and to identify and punish those responsible for them. It also urges Guatemala to take the necessary measures to ensure that such events do not happen again.

According to publicly available information, on May 7, 2019, a riot broke out at the Granja Penal Pavón prison, 25 kilometers from Guatemala City, where approximately 4,120 people are incarcerated. To date, it is unclear what the causes of the unrest were. The inmates that were injured during the riot allegedly suffered firearm and stab wounds. Hours after the fighting began, the National Police Force and Special Forces were able to regain control of the prison. According to the prison authorities’ press statements, the Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating into the events. The IACHR observes that these investigations should not only seek to establish who was responsible for the events 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.

On several occasions in recent years, the IACHR has expressed its concern over the high levels of violence that are endemic in in Guatemalan prison facilities. In particular, in a press release dated August 3, 2016, the IACHR spoke out against events at this same penitentiary which claimed the lives of 17 people. The IACHR calls on the Guatemalan authorities to take steps to address the violence that prevails within its prison system. To this end, it urges the state to take measures that include disarming inmates; implementing effective controls to prevent the entry of weapons and other illicit objects into penitentiaries; improving security within prisons; investigating and punishing acts of violence and corruption that take place within them; and preventing criminal organizations from operating within them.

“Given the violence that prevails in Guatemalan prisons, which has claimed the lives of dozens of people in recent years, we must reiterate that the state of Guatemala is legally bound to take concrete, immediate action to guarantee the life and personal integrity of all people who are deprived of their freedom in the country,” said IACHR president and rapporteur for Guatemala Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño.

“These clashes took place in a prison where overcrowding is endemic—it currently houses three times the number of inmates it is designed for, as the IACHR observed first-hand during its on-site visit to the country in 2017,” said the rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty and preventing and combating torture, Commissioner Joel Hernández. “Given that prison overcrowding violates rights and leads to greater violence, the state must take steps to reduce these levels,” he added.

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. 124/19