Reports of 58 inmates being killed and 100 injured in the Uribana prison in Venezuela are alarming. The sheer number of those killed is shocking when these people are supposed to be under the protection of the state after being stripped of their civil liberties. It would be easy to say that it is not a major issue as the people killed were, after all, incarcerated for violating the rules governing their society. But this is ignoring the fact that these people still have the right not to have their lives taken from them. Mr Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that “these persons are under State custody and therefore the relevant State authorities bear responsibility for what happens to them,” and added that states must ensure that conditions of detention are compatible with the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The deaths came after a crackdown on the proliferation of guns within the prison which in itself evidences the lack of control that the authorities have over their prisoners.
It has been speculated that the poor conditions within the prisons is to blame for the amount of violence and the number of guns and weapons in Uribana prison and there have been calls for a comprehensive prison policy and the training of penitentiary staff. We can see just by looking at the statistics that something is seriously wrong within the Venezuelan system if deaths on this scale can occur. We can put this into perspective by considering that around 600 inmates died in Venezuelan prisons last year suggesting that the staff are just not looking after the people in their care. This is worrisome as it could be argued that this is violating their rights and as such the onus of responsibility lies with the government to address this problem. If this is not possible then it falls to the international community to assist the government in tackling this issue. Although it would be unsavoury to some to spend money and resources on improving the lives of jailed men and women, it is still essential to uphold their human rights or we shall violate the principles that the UN and the international community is founded on.