After prison blaze kills hundreds in Honduras, UN warns on overcrowding

15 February 2012

A United Nations human rights official today called on Latin American countries to tackle the problem of prison overcrowding in the wake of an overnight fire at a jail in Honduras that killed hundreds of inmates.

More than 300 prisoners are reported to have died in the blaze at the prison, located north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, with dozens of others still missing and presumed dead.

Antonio Maldonado, human rights adviser for the UN system in Honduras, told UN Radio today that overcrowding may have contributed to the death toll.

“But we have to wait until a thorough investigation is conducted so we can reach a precise cause,” he said.

“But of course there is a problem of overcrowding in the prison system, not only in this country, but also in many other prisons in [Latin] America.”

Last week, the South American regional representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Amerigo Incalcaterra, cited chronic overcrowding as one of the key causes behind a recent wave of deadly violence in jails across the continent.

Mr. Maldonado said today that international human rights bodies, including the UN Committee against Torture, have recommended to the Honduran Government in the past to reduce overcrowding and to “adopt any appropriate and effective measures” to prevent situations such as the deadly fire from occurring.

“Unfortunately this seems not to be the case,” he added.

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