- The UN office is "gravely concerned" about the clashes between inmates and the Venezuelan police that ended in fatalities.
- Venezuela says that the riot ensued following a failed escape attempt by the inmates.
- Restrictions on rights during the coronavirus crisis have led to prison riots and detention in several countries worldwide.
Several human rights organizations have called for a thorough investigation into a prison riot in Venezuela that left at least 46 inmates dead. The fracas took place on Friday in the Los Llanos prison in the state of Portuguesa in western Venezuela. In addition to the dead, 75 others were left nursing injuries.
The UN office is “gravely concerned” about the clashes between inmates and the Venezuelan police that ended in fatalities. The Venezuelan government’s explanation, that the riot ensued following a failed escape attempt by the inmates, is being doubted by the various rights organizations. Instead, they believe that the uprising was due to a lack of access to food at the prison during this time of the coronavirus crisis.
They are therefore calling for a thorough investigation to be done to ascertain the real reason behind the riot. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote on Twitter that it is “gravely concerned about the violent events in a detention facility in Guanare,” and added that “we urge the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation, tackle overcrowding & guarantee basic rights.”
The prisons in the South American country are known for extreme violence and poor conditions. From time to time, there are bloody clashes in prisons, many of which are largely controlled by gangs. According to a report by the army, which was accessed by a section of the international media, the confrontation ensued on Friday as inmates began to “destroy the security fences in the area” in a “large-scale escape attempt.” The report also describes that the prison director was injured during attempted negotiations with the inmates.
However, a group working for the rights of inmates has a different explanation. The Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons (OVP) calls the episode a “massacre.” Both authorities and human rights NGOs confirm that all the dead were inmates. The OVP and the organization A Window Toward Freedom, another NGO for inmates, believe the uprising began after authorities banned family members from providing food to the inmates. The measure was intended to stop the spread of coronavirus in the prisons.
Beatriz Giron, president of the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons, which advocates for inmates’ rights, said the explanation of an escape attempt was very unlikely. “It is difficult to believe that at 1 p.m., in the light of day, prisoners are going to escape through the front door,” she said. She added that the Los Llanos prison was built for some 750 inmates, but was currently housing at least 2,500.
Restrictions on rights during the coronavirus crisis have led to prison riots and detention in several countries worldwide. They include Italy and Argentina. A riot was also reported in a Brazilian prison. In Venezuela, neither the country’s Ministry of Information nor the Prosecutor’s Office responded to the media’s inquiries following the Saturday riot.