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IACHR Regrets Violence in Guatemalan Prison

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern with regard to the acts of violence that took place inside the Puerto Barrios Prison, in the province of Izabal, Guatemala. As a result of these incidents, eight inmates reportedly lost their lives and 24 were injured.

According to publicly available information, on January 1, 2016, a riot broke out in the Puerto Barrios Prison, in the Caribbean province of Izabal. The Guatemalan prison system reported through social media that the disturbance occurred "after the authorities managed to thwart an escape plan."

Members of the National Civil Police and the Army reportedly went to the Puerto Barrios facility to bring the situation under control. Information available to this Commission indicates that in the context of the riot, eight persons in custody lost their lives and another 24 were injured.

According to media reports, two of those who died were found decapitated and the bodies of two others were charred. The eight bodies reportedly were taken to the National Institute of Forensic Sciences for the relevant tests to be performed.

The Inter-American Commission notes that similar events were reported in late 2015 at another Guatemalan prison, the Granja Penal Canadá (Canadá Prison Farm) located in the province of Escuintla. The Commission referred to those incidents in its Press Release 144/15, dated December 7, 2015.

As in the case of the violence at the Granja Penal Canadá, the incidents at the Puerto Barrios facility were also reported to have occurred in a context of overcrowding. According to publicly available information, the Puerto Barrios Prison has a capacity to house 200 prisoners but currently is said to have a population of 900 inmates.

In this context, the Inter-American Commission urges the Guatemalan authorities to adopt appropriate measures, including structural reforms, in order to prevent these types of acts of violence, and to investigate such incidents with due diligence and without delay.

Toward this end, the IACHR calls on the State to take concrete steps such as disarming inmates and imposing effective controls to keep out weapons and other illicit items; improve the security inside prisons; investigating and punishing any acts of violence and corruption that may take place in correctional facilities; and preventing the activities of criminal organizations with a presence inside prisons.

The State should also take steps to reduce overcrowding and the use of pretrial detention, through the implementation of alternative measures. In that regard, this Commission has indicated that the use of precautionary measures other than pretrial detention is consistent with the exceptional nature of pretrial detention and with the right to presumption of innocence; moreover, the use of alternative measures tends to be sustainable and effective as part of a comprehensive strategy to address prison overcrowding.

[Source: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Washington, 19Jan16]

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