Press Release

IACHR Condemns Violence in Peruvian Prisons

May 8, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the violent events that took place in different prisons run by the Peruvian state as a result of protests demanding appropriate medical care to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The IACHR urged the state of Peru to take the necessary measures to protect the rights to life, humane treatment, and health of the people in their custody and to prevent such events from occurring again.

According to the information at the IACHR’s disposal, between March and April 2020 riots took place in the prisons of Río Seco (Piura), Picsi (Lambayeque), El Milagro (La Libertad), Ancón 1 and 2 (Lima), Yanamilla (Ayacucho), Huamancaca (Junín), Castro Castro (Lima), and Chiclayo (Lambayeque). This violence reportedly resulted in the loss of life of 16 people who were deprived of their freedom. Eight of these deaths were allegedly the result of the use of firearms by state agents. The riots also reportedly left more than 100 people injured, including 45 prisoners, 60 prison workers, and 5 police officers.

According to publicly available information, the origins of the riots were protests to demand better medical care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the release of prisoners. Specifically, the state’s prisons are allegedly unable to provide adequate medical treatment for patients with COVID-19, equipment to prevent it from spreading, and diagnostic testing. The protest at Castro Castro prison sought to demand the removal of the body of a person who had died the previous day and had exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. The state informed the IACHR of various measures that aim to prevent the spread of the virus, such as the adoption of the “Action Plan to Address the Risk of the COVID-19 Virus Entering Penitentiary Establishments,” strengthening the budgetary capacity of the National Penitentiary Institute, the implementation of sanitation and biosecurity measures, and the construction of temporary isolation spaces.

According to the Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, as the guarantor of the fundamental rights of people deprived of their freedom in its custody, the state of Peru is legally bound to take immediate, concrete steps to guarantee their rights to life, humane treatment, and health. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IACHR reiterated that states must guarantee dignified internment conditions and provide health services for the prison population. Specifically, they are obliged to carry out systematic examinations to identify the potential risk of contagion and any suspected cases, to be able to isolate patients, and to have the necessary equipment to control and prevent the spread of the virus.

Given the levels of overcrowding that prevail in Peruvian penitentiaries—prison authorities have informed the country’s press that these are operating at 142% capacity—the state must immediately adopt measures to reduce the prison population. In this regard, the IACHR and its rapporteurs on Peru, the protection of people who are deprived of their freedom, and for the prevention and combating of torture welcomed the initial actions that the Peruvian authorities have taken in response to the pandemic, such as: i) Legislative Decree No. 1459 of April 14, 2020, which mandates the automatic release of people sentenced for failure to make family support payments, and ii) Supreme Decree No. 004-2020-JUS of April 22, 2020 on common and humanitarian pardons   and commutations of sentences. In relation to these, the state of Peru reported on its decision to release 321 people who had been detained for failing to make family support payments and to release 37 people through the granting of presidential pardons. The state also indicated that on May 5, 2020, the Office of the President sent Bill No. 5110/2020-PE to Congress in an effort to guarantee prison releases on a significant scale. Similarly, through Administrative Resolutions No. 117, 118, 119, and 120-2020-CE-P, the judiciary allegedly authorized prison authorities to review cases in which alternative measures could be applied or prisoners could be released. The full implementation of these measures is particularly urgent given that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a greater risk to people who are deprived of their freedom.

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. 107/20