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UA 04/94 - Venezuela: extrajudicial executions / fear of torture: at least 150 inmates of Maracaibo National Prison and an unspecified number of Wayuu Indians (includes an addendum dated 2 February)

, Index number: AMR 53/001/1994

At least 150 prisoners died and more than 250 were injured during a riot at Maracaibo National Prison ("Sabaneta") on 3 January 1994. Reports indicate that dozens of prisoners died of asphyxiation and burns during the violent protest but that many were also killed during violence when the security forces entered the prison to regain control. AI is also concerned about reports that many Wayuu Indian prisoners allegedly involved in the riots have been moved to the isolated El Dorado prison, where conditions are apparently appalling. AI fears that they may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment while confined there. In a separate incident, at least 9 inmates were killed and dozens more wounded when the security forces tried to control an attempted escape and rioting by inmates at the State of Aragua Penitentiary on 5 January 1994.

EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 53/01/94
Distr: UA/SC
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
of Zulia.
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
UA 377/92, AMR 53/09/92, 30 November 1992).
Amnesty International is calling for a full and effective investigation into
the killings at the Sabaneta and Tocorón prisons, and for those responsible
to be brought to justice. Investigations should include the effective
identification of the victims. Amnesty International is deeply concerned about
reports that, while hundreds of relatives of prisoners in Sabaneta were still
waiting for information about their loved ones, the authorities - alleging
lack of refrigerated storage facilities - began to bury dozens of bodies in
common graves in a cemetery in Maracaibo.
Amnesty International is also gravely concerned that unless urgent and effective
measures are adopted to improve prison conditions and the administration of
justice, incidents like those in Sabaneta may be repeated in prisons throughout
the country.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/telexes/faxes/express and airmail
letters either in Spanish or in your own language:
- expressing grave concern about the deaths of at least 150 people in the Sabaneta
prison on 3 January 1994 and of at least 9 at the Tocorón prison on 5 January
- requesting the authorities to carry out immediate, full and impartial
investigations into each of these incidents, following the guidelines of the
United Nations' Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of
Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions;
- urging the full identification of the victims and adequate care of all the
- urging that all necessary steps are taken to ensure that the security forces
abide by the United Nations' Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials;
- requesting that the safety of the Wayúu Indians transferred to El Dorado
prison be safeguarded against any possible torture or ill-treatment.
1) President of the Republic
Sr. Ramón José Velásquez
President of the Republic of Venezuela
Palacio de Miraflores, Caracas, Venezuela
Telegrams: President Velásquez, Caracas, Venezuela
Telexes: 26429 EXTER VC
Salutation: Sr. Presidente / Mr. President
2) Minister of Defence
Vice Almirante Radamés Muñoz León
Ministro de Defensa Nacional
Ministerio de Defensa Nacional
Fuerte Tiuna, Conejo Blanco,
El Valle, Caracas, Venezuela
Telegrams: Ministro Defensa, Caracas, Venezuela
Faxes: +58 2 66 28 829
Salutation: Sr. Ministro / Dear Minister
3) Attorney General of the Republic
Dr. Ramón Escovar Salom
Fiscal General de la República
Fiscalía General de la República
Manduca a Ferrenquín
La Candelaria, Caracas 1010-A, VENEZUELA
Telegrams: Fiscal General, Caracas, Venezuela
Faxes: + 58 2 66 28 829
Salutation: Estimado Dr. Escovar Salom / Dear Dr. Escovar Salom
1). Human Rights organization
Sres., PROVEA, Apartado 5156, Caracas 1010-A, VENEZUELA
2). Daily Newspaper
El Nacional, Edificio El Nacional, Puente Nuevo a Puerto Escondido, Caracas,
and to diplomatic representatives of Venezuela accredited to your country
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 22 February 1994.

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