During the earthquake, it was well reported that the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince crumbled and all inmates escaped. I posted on it here, here and here.

But this was not the only prison in Haiti. Les Cayes Prison, 100 miles west of Port-au-Prince, was the scene of prisoner protest, guard desertion and mass killings.

Today, the New York Times released the findings of an investigation at Les Cayes.

The day after the violence, the Rev. Marc Boisvert, who has run a training program at the prison for many years, was allowed in. Before the riot, conditions there were “inhumane,” he said. Afterward, with more than 400 prisoners in five or six small rectangular cells, they became “seriously inhumane.” Photo by Rev. Marc Boisvert

The New York Times reports, “After the earthquake, the warden, Inspector Sylvestre Larack, put out a “maximum alert” calling his 29 guards back to duty. But on Jan. 19, with much of Les Cayes still in a post-quake state of emergency, only five guards showed up to work inside the prison.”

Squalid conditions, described by Rev. Marc Boisvert as “subhuman”, led prisoners to hatch an escape plan. They beat an officer into surrendering his keys. All the guards fled leaving the prisoners unsupervision and doors unlocked.

Inmates could not leave the prison because UN forces had surrounded the complex.

SUPPRESSION AND VIOLENCE

In the New York Times’ investigation several inconsistencies were found. Among the allegations:

Haitian police gunned down prisoners, beat prisoners and then covered up evidence by burning blood soaked clothing, shoes etc.

Between 10 and 19 unarmed prisoners were killed when Haitian government forces entered the prison and instructed them to move away, lie down and then open fire.

Before the Haitian forces entered, prison authorities asked Senegalese and UN forces to enter the prison using munitions. The UN refused.

The warden, Inspector Sylvestre Larack (who has know been transferred to the post of warden at Port-au-Prince’s National Penitentiary) lied in the first and only internal investigation. He fabricated details of gun use by prisoners upon riot police.

RAMIFICATIONS

At the forefront of your consideration when reading this story should be the fact that, of the 800 inmates, over 300 of the inmates were pretrial detainees. They have not been found guilty of a crime. Some of them were incarcerated for something as little as loitering.

The US has requested $141 million to rebuild Haiti’s justice system. If Haiti cannot carry through its own inquiry to uncover the truth and make accountable those responsible for murder and human rights abuses then it sets a very poor precedent for trust and the culture of governance in the next few years of recovery.

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I HAVE PROVIDED A MERE SUMMARY OF THE NYT INVESTIGATION. GO HERE FOR THE LENGTHY ARTICLE BY. GO HERE FOR A 12 MINUTE VIDEO OF THE INTERVIEWS AND CONCLUSIONS OF THE INVESTIGATION. GO HERE TO SEE ANGEL FRANCO’S PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THE STORY.

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