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Paraguay
21.01.02
Urgent Interventions

Paraguay: death in detention of 50 in Ciudad del Este prison due to fire

CHILD CONCERN
Case PRY 210102, PRY 210102.EE
Death in Detention
Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment

The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your URGENT INTERVENTION in the following situation in Paraguay.

Brief description of the situation

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by a reliable source that the Ciudad del Este prison in Paraguay was destroyed by fire on 16 December 2001. Approximate estimates put the death toll at 50 and some 200 people were seriously injured.

According to the information received, a prison warden named Juan Carlos Ojeda ordered one of the prisoners, Simón Torres, to undress so as to check that he was not concealing arms on his person. It would appear that Simón Torres refused to undress, arguing that this was humiliating. On his refusal, the warden shot the prisoner three times in his legs.

The other prisoners who had witnessed the scene allegedly demanded the presence of the Prosecutor, the Judge or the Director of the prison. In their absence, the prisoners set fire to their mattresses in protest, but the fire spread very rapidly. It appears that the wardens preferred to keep the pavilions locked to prevent the prisoners from escaping, and only opened them three hours later, thus leaving the prisoners to die in captivity.

According to the information received, Ciudad del Este prison which was designed to house 200 inmates held 450 prisoners at the time of these incidents, of which 86 were children. The Paraguayan government has still not revealed how many of them were among the victims.

Context

In recent years there have been several incidents of fire in Paraguayan detention centres. Between 11 February 2000 and 25 July 2001 in particular, internal tensions were the cause of four fires in the Panchito Lopez Detention Centre for Minors in Asuncion. Several children were seriously injured and the Centre was finally totally destroyed (see Case OMCT PRY 070300.1.EE). In January 1999 two prisoners died in a fire and a third one was seriously injured in the Buen Pastor Detention Centre for Women.

Children’s rights

OMCT is extremely concerned by the situation of all detainees in Paraguay. As far as children are concerned, OMCT recalls that as a State party to the Convention on the rights of the child, (the Convention), Paraguay is bound to respect its terms. In particular, article 6 which states that “every child has the inherent right to life”. Article 37 also states that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. This article goes on to state that “every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is in the child’s best interest not to do so (…)”

OMCT is of the opinion that by virtue of these dispositions, States parties are bound to adopt positive measures for prevention, protection and reparation. In particular, OMCT wishes to recall Rule 32 of the UN Rules for the protection of minors deprived of their freedom which states that “the design and structure of juvenile detention facilities should be such as to minimize the risk of fire and to ensure safe evacuation from the premises. There should be an effective alarm system in case of fire, as well as formal and drilled procedures to ensure the safety of the juveniles.”

Action requested

We request you kindly to contact the Paraguayan authorities and request them :

i. to take all necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical and psychological integrity of all detainees in Paraguay;
ii. to guarantee an immediate enquiry into the circumstances of the fire that took place in the Ciudad del Este prison, to identify those responsible, bring them before a competent and impartial tribunal and apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions foreseen by the law;
iii. to guarantee the physical and psychological rehabilitation of those injured in the Ciudad del Este prison fire and to ensure their total redress and social reintegration;
iv. to guarantee total reparation to the families of those who died in the fire in the Ciudad del Este prison;
v. to place children separately from adult prisoners, unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do;
vi. to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedom throughout the country, according to national laws and international standards, and in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Addresses

· Don Luis Angel González Macchi, President of the Republic of Paraguay, Palacio de López-El Paraguayo Independiente y Ayolas
Telefax: (0541)(021)441889, Email: webmaster@presidencia.gob.py
· Don Julio César Ramón Franco Gómez, Vice-President of the Republic of Paraguay, Edificio ¨Vicepresidencia¨-General Díaz esq. Alberdi
Telefax: (0541)(021)450001/5
· Don Silvio Ferreira Fernández, Minister of Justice and Labour, Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia esq. EEUU
Telefax: (0541)(021)208469
· Don Fernando Canillas Vera, Vice-Minister of Justice, Herrera y Paraguarí
Telefax: (0541)(021)498339
· Don Juan Antonio Moreno Rufinelli, Minister of External Relations, O´Leary esq. Pte. Franco Telefax:(0541)(021)493910

Please also write to the Paraguayan diplomatic representative in your country.

Geneva, 21 January 2002

Kindly inform us of any action you may take, citing the reference of this appeal in your reply.
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