Press Release

IACHR Condemns Massacre with More than 60 Dead in Brazilian Prison

August 5, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the massacre that took place at a prison in the Brazilian state of Pará. These events left at least 62 people dead, including four who died while being transferred to other prison facilities. The Inter-American Commission urges the Brazilian State to investigate the circumstances in which these events happened, and to identify and punish the people responsible for them. The Brazilian State must take all necessary measures to ensure that events of this kind do not happen again.

According to publicly available reports, violence broke out in the morning of July 29, 2019 among inmates at the Centro de Recuperação Regional de Altamira, in the municipality of Altamira, in the state of Pará. That violence was a consequence of territorial disputes between two gangs within the facility. In particular, Pará prison authorities reported that members of the group known as Comando Classe A set fire to a cell holding members of the group Comando Vermelho, and then blocked the exits. At least 58 inmates lost their lives in those events. Of those, 16 were decapitated, while the rest suffocated to death due to smoke from the fire. The government of Pará said that several officials of the state’s law-enforcement agencies had travelled to Altamira to monitor investigations onto these events.

On the day the massacre happened, the head of Pará’s Penitentiary System said that 46 inmates involved in the violence were to be transferred to other prisons, in an effort to improve management and security in penitentiary facilities. According to local media reports, the bodies of four inmates were found on July 31, with signs of having been strangled during transfer to other prisons, in the early hours of the previous day.

The Inter-American Commission warns, with profound concern, that these deaths in the state of Pará happened in a context marked by repeated acts of violence in Brazil’s penitentiaries, which suffer high levels of overcrowding and appalling conditions of detention. Both the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court have repeatedly made—through various mechanisms—recommendations and calls for the State of Brazil to protect the lives and integrity of all individuals in its custody. The Commission has granted precautionary measures and processed petitions and cases on this issue. It has also held public hearings, visited detention centers, and issued press releases.

The IACHR stresses the State of Brazil’s inescapable legal obligation—as the guarantor of the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty—to take concrete action to protect the lives and personal integrity of these individuals. In the context of this obligation, the State must take measures to prevent and control potential outbreaks of extreme violence in detention centers, which include disarming inmates, imposing effective screening to prevent the introduction of weapons and other illegal objects into prisons, investigating and punishing acts of violence in penitentiary facilities, and preventing the actions of criminal organizations present within prisons.

“So far this year, the IACHR has spoken up about the deaths of more than 100 people—first at the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (Compaj) in Manaus, and now in the state of Pará,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty and to Prevent and Fight Torture. “This alarming situation makes it clear that there are serious failures to protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, which mean measures taken to reduce high levels of violence are ineffective. All this entails non-compliance with the State’s special legal obligation to protect individuals in its custody,” Commissioner Hernández added.

“We stress our call to the State of Brazil, and insist on the urgent need to immediately take measures necessary to protect the lives and integrity of persons deprived of their liberty, so events such as these do not happen again in the future. The IACHR expresses its willingness to assist the Brazilian State on this issue,” said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, IACHR Rapporteur for Brazil.

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. 190/19