IACHR Condemns Deaths of at Least Seven People in Guatemalan Prison

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Santo Domingo - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the violence that led to the deaths of at least seven people and left 25 injured in a prison in Guatemala’s Escuintla province. The IACHR urges the Guatemalan State to adopt any measures necessary to prevent such events from happening again, and to investigate these acts of violence and punish anyone responsible for them.

On April 26, 2018, a prison riot took place inside Canada Prison Farm, in the province of Escuintla. The director general of Guatemala’s prison system told reporters that the violence started with a fight between groups of inmates for control of “illegal business,” which ended in a clash that involved the use of firearms. Of the seven people who died, six died from gunshot wounds, while a further inmate was electrocuted as he tried to jump over a fence to escape from the facility. Various security forces deployed personnel and retook control of the prison within a few hours of these events. A search was carried out among inmates in which 106 rounds of various caliber ammunition and four firearms were seized, along with cell phones and cash.

The public prosecutor’s office has reportedly launched an investigation into these events. In this respect, the Commission urges the Guatemalan State to carry out such investigations with due diligence and to seek to establish not only the criminal liability of those who perpetrated the violence, but also to hold accountable any masterminds and any authorities who might be to blame based on their actions or omissions.

In recent years, the IACHR has received reports on persistently high levels of violence in Guatemala’s detention centers, stemming from conflicts between rival groups of inmates and from a lack of effective control by the authorities inside such facilities. Specifically, in a press release issued in December 2015, the IACHR expressed its concern over acts of violence that had happened in that same penitentiary center and reportedly claimed the lives of at least 16 people.

In this context, the Commission stresses that States, as guarantors of the fundamental rights of persons deprived of their freedom, have an inescapable legal obligation to take concrete actions to protect the rights of inmates to life and to humane treatment. With this end in mind, the IACHR urges the Guatemalan State to take concrete measures, such as disarming inmates and enforcing effective control to keep weapons and other illegal objects out of the facility, increasing security and surveillance personnel inside prisons, and preventing the actions of criminal organizations present inside prisons.

“These events happened inside a prison that is known for being overcrowded and holds more than 3,000 people, that is, more than four times its intended capacity,” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty. “Overcrowding leads to human rights violations among the prison population, and it is also a factor that tends to increase the level of violence. The Guatemalan State must therefore urgently take measures to reduce the high incarceration rates, such as seeking alternatives to the deprivation of liberty or releasing eligible inmates,” Hernández 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.

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