Press Release

IACHR Condemns the Deaths of over 50 People in Brazilian Prisons

May 31, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the acts of violence that took place at four prisons in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, which led to at least 57 deaths and 4 injuries. The IACHR urges the state of Brazil to investigate the circumstances in which these events took place and to identify and punish those responsible for them. The state must also take the necessary measures to ensure that such events do not happen again.

According to publicly available information, on May 26, 2019, fighting between inmates broke out at the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (Compaj), in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas. The fighting allegedly took place during visiting hours and resulted in at least 15 people losing their lives. The following day, May 27, during security force inspections of Manaus prisons, the Brazilian authorities reported that at least 42 people had been asphyxiated to death in four Brazilian prisons. In addition to Compaj, the other prisons where human lives were lost were the Antônio Trindade Penal Institute (Ipat), the Puraquequara Penitentiary Unit (UPP), and the Provisional Detention Center for Men (CDPM 1). As a result of these events, the Ministry of Justice announced that it was dispatching a team of specialist security forces to oversee prisons in the state of Amazonas.

The IACHR acknowledges that the authorities are investigating into these events in order to shed light on the crimes in question. 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 arose in a context of repeated acts of violence within Brazilian penitentiaries, in which severe overcrowding and deplorable conditions of detention are endemic. 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.

The IACHR once again stresses that as the guarantor of the fundamental rights of people deprived of their liberty in Brazil, the state is legally bound to take concrete steps to guarantee the life and personal integrity of all such people. As part of this obligation, the state must take measures 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 that take place within prison facilities; and preventing the actions of criminal organizations operating within these.

The IACHR rapporteur for Brazil, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, said: “the measures that state has taken to date, which include the National Public Security Force guarding the vicinities of the Compaj compound since 2017, have proven ineffective at preventing outbreaks of violence within Brazilian prisons.”

The IACHR rapporteur on the rights of people deprived of their liberty and for the prevention and combating of torture, Commissioner Joel Hernández, added: “The state of Brazil must take urgent and immediate action to effectively guarantee the life and safety of the people in its custody.”

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. 136/19