Invasive body searches subject to hearing at Inter-American Commission

Thursday, October 22, 2015

At the request of more than 20 national and regional organisations and national and local preventive mechanisms from six countries of the region (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay), including the APT, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted a public hearing on humiliating and violent body searches imposed on detainees and their families. Representatives from the applicant organisations will have the opportunity to expose their concerns and some country situations to the Commissioners, in particular with respect to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment suffered on a daily basis by detainees and their relatives, women, boys and girls entering prisons to visit them.

Body searches are a form of discipline and control of persons deprived of their liberty. They reflect one modality of violent and arbitrary treatment committed by prison staff on detainees and their families. Invasive body searches are procedures according to which persons are obliged to undress and adopt humiliating postures as a condition for admission to a prison to visit a person held in custody. In some countries, inspections of anal and vaginal cavities of both visitors and detainees are systematically practiced as part of the procedure. In certain cases, they constitute acts of sexual violence and are normatively legitimised.

Complaints are regularly raised against these extremely invasive practices, as a breach of individual guarantees and human dignity. In addition, these procedures have not demonstrated any satisfactory results in improving prison security and decreasing entry of prohibited items. Finally, such humiliating and violent practices constitute a disincentive to visits; they are an obstacle to the continuity of the family bond, which is a key factor to the reintegration of persons deprived of their liberty.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has already expressed itself on the matter and considered that this practice was incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights.

The public hearing will be held on Friday, October 23, 2015 from 15:15 until 16:00 (Washington time), and will be broadcasted live online from the website of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Statement: Invasive body searches subject of hearing before IACHR

Body Searches: Detention Monitoring Tool Factsheet