The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) announced May 22 that it has launched an investigation into the shootings of dozens of prisoners during a jail riot in Les Cayes, the country’s third city, following the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Haitian police had blamed fighting among inmates for the deaths. Thousands of prisoners escaped from jails in Haiti in the chaos after the quake that killed more than 200,000.
A New York Times investigation alleges at least 12 unarmed prisoners were killed by police in the jail at Les Cayes after they had surrendered. The newspaper said the riot started when some of the 467 inmates tried to escape from the overcrowded facility. The Times’ investigation found that police opened fire on unarmed prisoners—even as they complied with orders to lie down on the floor—and then sought to cover it up by claiming that a prison ring-leader, Ti Mousson, killed inmates who refused to cooperate in his escape plan.
One witness claims that some prisoners were killed systematically by police to “settle scores.” Following the shooting, police failed to notify inmates’ relatives of the deaths, buried bodies without conducting autopsies, and burned the surviving inmates’ bloodstained clothing. Prison authorities deny the allegations and claim that no shots were fired by the police.
In February the acting head of MINUSTAH urged Haitians to turn in prisoners who escaped when the earthquake destroyed prisons and jails. The aftermath of the earthquake also placed a strain on detainees arrested since the disaster, as limited space and administrative chaos burdened the country’s already tenuous criminal justice system. (Jurist, BBC News, May 23; NYT, May 22)
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