EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 53/01/94
UA 04/94 Extrajudicial executions/fear of torture 11 January 1994
VENEZUELA At least 150 inmates and an unspecified number of Wayúu Indians
Amnesty International is deeply concerned that on 3 January 1994 at least 150
prisoners died and more than 250 were injured during a riot at the Cárcel Nacional
de Maracaibo, Maracaibo National Prison, also known as Sabaneta, in the state
Reports indicate that on 3 January inmates in Sabaneta, demanding better prison
conditions, staged a violent protest and set fire to some cells. Dozens died
of asphyxiation and as a result of burns, but many were also reportedly killed
during violence which occurred when security forces entered the prison to regain
control. Scores of prisoners allegedly died as a result of gunshot wounds and
stabbings. The authorities announced that the killings took place during clashes
among rival prisoners' gangs, but local human rights monitors claim that the
security forces were directly responsible for many of the killings, including
a number of extrajudicial executions. It seems that no prison guards have
been suspended pending an investigation.
Amnesty International is also greatly concerned by reports that scores of Wayúu
Indian prisoners, who had allegedly participated in the riots, were transferred
to El Dorado, a prison in an isolated jungle area near the border with Guyana.
Amnesty International visited El Dorado in January and November 1993 and
verified its appalling conditions and reports of torture and ill-treatment.
It fears that many of the Sabaneta inmates transferred to El Dorado may be
subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
In a separate incident on 5 January, at least 9 inmates were killed and dozens
more wounded at the Centro Penitenciario de Aragua, State of Aragua Penitentiary
- also known as the Tocorón prison, when the security forces tried to control
an attempted escape and rioting by inmates. No further details are presently
available about the incident at Tocorón prison.
The Sabaneta prison, which has a capacity of 900, was holding nearly 3000 inmates
at the time of riot. It is well-known for its appalling conditions, such as
severe overcrowding, lack of drinking water and sanitation, inadequate medical
care and food and frequent beatings of prisoners by prison guards. In 1993,
violent clashes among prisoners in Sabaneta resulted in the death of at least
70 inmates. During a recent visit to Venezuela, an Amnesty International
delegation was denied access to the prison.
In Venezuela dozens of prisoners have been the victims of arbitrary killings
and extrajudicial executions by members of the security forces. Most of those
responsible have not been brought to justice, such as in the case of the November
1992 massacre of more than 63 prisoners in the Retén de Catia in Caracas (see