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Dramatic prison crisis requires immediate response in Latin America

News Release

Switzerland - Argentina - Colombia - Honduras - Mexico - Peru – Venezuela - 3 November 2021

The almost two million people deprived of their liberty in Latin America are living a nightmare. The pandemic has exacerbated the already dramatic prison crisis, where overcrowding, deplorable sanitary conditions and abuses make prisons even more uninhabitable than before, in a context of severe lockdown.

Members of the Latin American Litigators’ Group against Torture1 expressed their deep concern at a recent public hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), stressing that "it is extremely urgent that the States of the region take measures to end the opacity and total closure of prisons that has characterised the management of the pandemic in the penitentiary system".

Initial gestures to reduce the prison population have been insufficient. In countries such as Mexico, the prison population grew in 2020, despite the adoption of an Amnesty Law. Overcrowding rates in the region continue to be alarming and vaccination plans have failed to include people in detention as a priority population in many countries in the region, despite studies documenting that the risk of death from Covid-19 is at least three times higher in detention.

In countries such as Honduras and Peru, prisoners have not been able to receive visits from their loved ones since March 2020 and only a few have access to video or phone calls. The lack of communication with the outside world has dramatic consequences on mental health and family, as well as social well-being, with a worrying increase in suicides and violence in the prison context.

In Venezuela, detainees who have exercised protest mechanisms to demand decent prison conditions in the face of food shortages have been brutally repressed. In April 2020, at least 46 inmates lost their lives and 70 were injured following a protest in the Centro Penitenciario de los Llanos (CEPELLA) in Guanare, Portuguesa State. Riots and protests have also recently resulted in dozens of deaths in Colombia and Argentina.

Against this bleak backdrop, the Litigators’ Group urged the IACHR to "denounce the persistence of disproportionate restrictions and undignified prison conditions in the Americas and to urge States to allow the entry of independent monitors to assess the effects of the restrictions and the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic".

The IACHR expressed deep concern about the prison situation. Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño noticed with dismay that “it seems that the lives of people in detention in the region have no value” and emphasised the need for States and their officials to comply with their international obligations to protect and respect the dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.

For more information, please contact:

Geneva: Iolanda Jaquemet, Communications Director of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), , mobile (+) 41 79 539 41 06

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