N° 120/10




Washington, D.C., December 9, 2010—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) deplores the deaths of inmates in a fire at San Miguel Prison in Santiago, Chile. The IACHR urgently calls on the State to adopt the necessary measures to duly investigate these events and prevent them from happening again.


According to the information the Commission has received, at least 83 individuals died and at least 14 others suffered serious burns as a result of a fire that reportedly broke out in the early morning hours of December 8, 2010. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to take appropriate measures to provide quick and accurate information on the identities of the prisoners who lost their lives in the fire and the specific circumstances and causes of their deaths. The Commission also urges the State to inform the relatives of the injured inmates about their current medical condition and to provide timely information to the relatives of prisoners who may be transferred to other facilities. Lastly, the IACHR urges the State to report on the measures being taken at San Miguel Prison since the fire.


The IACHR Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty carried out a working visit to Chile in August 2008 and issued Press Release 39/08, in which it said that “in the State-run prisons an unprecedented level of overcrowding was observed, as well as extreme unsanitary conditions that include unreliable or deficient systems for drinking water, nutrition, hygiene, and health, as well as terrible infrastructure conditions and serious deficiencies in or lack of real programs for social readaptation.”


The Inter-American Commission shares the view of the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, who called what took place a “terrible and painful tragedy” and said that “the prison system is a disgrace that affects us all.” Along these lines, the IACHR believes that prison overcrowding not only constitutes in itself a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, but is a factor that jeopardizes the life and personal integrity of those who are incarcerated in a particular facility. Thus is it imperative for the national authorities to take all measures that may be necessary to ensure that prisons do not hold more inmates than they are equipped to house based on their real capacity.


The IACHR calls to mind that the State is in a special position of guarantor when it comes to the rights of persons deprived of liberty. This means that the act of incarceration implies a specific and real commitment by the State to guarantee the conditions required under international standards to safeguard the life and humane treatment of those who are incarcerated. This obligation to guarantee implies that the State must take all necessary measures to prevent situations of risk, such as this one, that may pose serious threats to the fundamental rights of those in custody. Along these lines, the States have the obligation to ensure that prisons have adequate, safe structures and the appropriate measures, action plans, and sufficient, trained staff in place to maintain security in its prisons and to handle these types of emergency situations.


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 matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.



Useful links:

Press Release 39/08, Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty Concludes Visit to Chile, August 28, 2008.

Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas

Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas

IACHR Press Office

Website of the IACHR






Read this press release in Spanish / Lea este comunicado de prensa en español


Press contact: María Isabel Rivero
Tel. (202) 458-3867


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