IACHR LAMENTS DEATHS IN FIRE IN SALVADORAN PRISON
Washington, D.C., November 11, 2010—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) deeply regrets the deaths of a number of inmates in a fire at the Alternative Center for Juvenile Offenders in Ilobasco, El Salvador. The IACHR urgently calls on the State to take the necessary steps to conduct a proper investigation and to ensure that such events do not happen again.
According to the information the Commission has received, at least 16 individuals died as a result of a fire that apparently took place in the early morning hours of November 10. Another 22 inmates were taken to the emergency room at Rosales National Hospital in San Salvador with serious burns, in some cases covering up to 70% of their bodies. The IACHR expresses its solidarity with the relatives of the inmates who died and with those who were injured. The Commission also values the efforts made by the authorities to provide information, immediately and in person, to the relatives of the victims following the fire.
During visits to several detention centers in El Salvador in October 2010, the IACHR Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty observed with concern that the country's prison system has serious structural deficiencies. Specifically, the Office of the Rapporteur noted the absence of adequate protocols and equipment to respond to emergency situations, such as fires, in a number of prison facilities. In its preliminary observations on the visit, published by the IACHR on October 20, 2010, the Office of the Rapporteur underscored in particular the serious deficiencies it observed at the "Sendero de Libertad" ["Path to Freedom"] Center for Social Integration, which is also located in Ilobasco. In that document, the Office of the Rapporteur noted with concern that, according to information provided by the Salvadoran authorities, "fire extinguishers do not receive proper maintenance, and the nearest fire station is 40 minutes from the facility." At that time, the IACHR also expressed its concern over the lack of preventive measures for handling emergencies at the Quezaltepeque Prison, and specifically mentioned the lack of preparation in the event of a fire.
The IACHR calls to mind that the State is in a special position of guarantor when it comes to the rights of persons deprived of liberty. This means that the act of incarceration implies a specific and real commitment by the State to guarantee the life and humane treatment of those who are incarcerated. This obligation to guarantee implies that the State must take all necessary measures to prevent situations of risk, such as this one, which may pose serious threats to the basic rights of those in custody. Along these lines, the States have the obligation to ensure that prisons have adequate, safe structures, as well as appropriate measures and plans of action in place to handle emergency situations.
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 human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
Press Release 104/10: IACHR Office of the Rapporteur Attests to Structural Deficiencies in Prison System of El Salvador
Preliminary Observations on the Visit to El Salvador by the Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty
To subscribe to the IACHR press release mailing list, please type your e-mail address in this form.