SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS DEPRIVED OF LIBERTY OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS EXPRESSES DEEP CONCERN ABOUT VIOLENT EVENTS IN VARIOUS GUATEMALAN PRISONS
The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty, Dr. Florentín Meléndez of the Inter-American Commission on Human rights (IACHR), expresses his deep concern about the violent events that occurred almost simultaneously on August 15, 2005, in four Guatemalan prisons. The Special Rapporteur extends his condolences to the families of the young detainees who lost their lives in those events.
According to public reports, there were violent clashes in Station 31 of the National Civil Police in Escuintla, the Pavón Rehabilitation Farm, the Canada Farm, and the Mazatenango Prevention Center between groups of “gangsters” known as “maras,” which left more than 30 dead and 80 wounded. Press reports say the gangs used fragmentation grenades, firearms, and machetes during the riots.
Since 2000 the IACHR has said that the inhumane conditions and lack of trained and qualified staff, together with lax supervision, have resulted in acts of internal violence, protests, strikes, and repeated escapes that generate a climate of growing insecurity among the public. As regards the situation of detainees involved in “maras” or gangs, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty noted in his November 2004 visit to Guatemala that they were victims of neglect, overcrowding, lack of proper facilities, sanitation, and access to medical and psychological care, as well as the lack of judicial oversight and specific projects for their rehabilitation. The Rapporteur specifically noted the lack of a penal policy for young offenders.
The Special Rapporteur feels that the serious structural problems of the Guatemalan prison system, together with the especially precarious conditions in which juvenile offenders are incarcerated and the lack of effective controls to prevent the entry of weapons in the detention centers are contributing factors to the violent events of August 15, which he characterizes as extremely serious.
Given that the State is the guarantor of the rights of persons in its custody, the Special Rapporteur urges the Guatemalan State to take the necessary steps to guarantee the right to life and humane treatment of persons deprived of liberty in the penal system, and in the country’s other detention centers. The State has a particular responsibility to control the use of force and discipline in the detention centers. It must also prevent the repetition of such acts of violence and loss of human life in the future by carrying out the necessary administrative and judicial investigations.
Washington D.C., August 16, 2005