Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the deaths of at least 68 people at the General Headquarters of the Regional Police in the Venezuelan state of Carabobo (Comandancia de Carabobo), Venezuela. The IACHR urges the State to investigate those deaths with due diligence, to identify and punish the people responsible for them, and to adopt whatever measures are necessary to prevent such events from happening again.
According to publicly available reports, a fire broke out on March 28, 2018 at the Carabobo Regional Police Headquarters. That fire is believed to have caused the deaths of at least 68 people, mostly persons deprived of their freedom but also some visitors. There is also an unspecified number of injured. According Jesus Santander, secretary general of the government of the state of Carabobo, the fire followed an attempted mutiny. In order to bring the flames under control and extinguish them, several public bodies sent their personnel to the Regional Police Headquarters.
Further, relatives of the persons detained at those facilities gathered there to request information, and the security forces reportedly used tear gas in response, to disperse them. The IACHR is sorry about those events and urges the State to respect the right of those families to know what happened. The Commission further calls on the State to adopt any measures necessary to spare the families of the victims additional suffering in such circumstances in the future.
The IACHR warns that such serious events happen in the context of a prison system crisis facing persons deprived of their freedom in Venezuela, a crisis that is characterized, among others, by severe overcrowding, an excessive use of pre-trial detention, corruption of penitentiary authorities, deplorable conditions of detention, and high levels of violence. As the guarantor of the rights of persons deprived of their freedom, the Venezuelan State has an inescapable legal obligation to take concrete actions to protect the rights of inmates to life and to humane treatment. Further, the Commission observes that these events happened at a police detention center, in cells that are widely known as calabozos. The IACHR expresses once again its specific concern over the use of such facilities, meant by their very nature to be temporary, as permanent detention centers characterized by overcrowding and by a lack of adequate infrastructure and basic services to ensure dignified conditions of detention.
The authorities said that the Public Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation of events at the Police Headquarters, and in particular, five Carabobo police officers allegedly responsible were arrested. In this respect, the Inter-American Commission calls that such investigations must seek not only to establish who perpetrated the events, but also any masterminds and any authorities who might be to blame based on their actions or omissions.
“It is essential to defuse the current risks and to protect the rights, the integrity and the lives of persons deprived of their freedom” said Commissioner Joel Hernández, Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty. “What happened at the Carabobo Police Headquarters has claimed the lives of scores of people in the custody of the Venezuelan State. In order to prevent such tragic events from happening again, it is urgent for the State to take immediate action to safeguard the rights of this population sector,” he 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 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.