Rights groups say Haiti prison riot a massacre
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec 9 (Reuters) – Haitian police killed dozens
of prisoners last week and carted out bodies in wheelbarrows during a riot
that turned into a massacre, according to a human rights group and one
The toll differs from Haitian police who say eight inmates were
killed. It also puts the spotlight on police whom U.N. officials are
already probing for the deaths in October of up to 13 supporters of ousted
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Police said inmates were killed after attacking guards at the national
penitentiary in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 1, when prisoners rioted over
prolonged detention without being taken before a judge and an imminent
transfer to another prison.
One prisoner who witnessed the riot said up to 60 inmates may have
been killed by police that day.
“I saw about 15 bodies where I was, but the dead could total 60. I saw
the police transporting from the prison loads of bodies in wheelbarrows,”
Ted Nazaire, a 24-year-old prisoner released a day after the riot and who
is now in hiding, told Reuters.
The Committee for the Protection of the Haitian People’s Rights, a
rights group, said dozens of people were killed.
Another rights group, The Lawyers Committee for Individual Rights,
(CARLI), said “many more” people had been killed than police reported. The
group did not give exact figures.
“The killing of the prisoners cannot be justified and those in charge
of their security should be held responsible,” said CARLI head Renan
Hedouville. “It’s a massacre.”
The penitentiary houses about 1,070 prisoners, including supporters of
Aristide, who was forced into exile in February following a bloody
rebellion and pressure from the United States and France.
The impoverished Caribbean nation has been in turmoil since the start
of the year. Rebels took over large parts of the country before Aristide’s
departure. A U.N. peacekeeping force was sent after Aristide left to
Aristide supporters have complained that Haiti’s U.S.-backed interim
government, installed after Aristide’s departure and led by Haitian Prime
Minister Gerard Latortue, has rounded up and jailed hundreds of Aristide
allies without charges.
Latortue said on Wednesday that an independent probe into the deaths
would be launched.
“We have to know the truth. We don’t need to hide it, because we know
in many countries police are capable of wrongdoing,” said Latortue, who did
not confirm or deny the allegation that several dozen prisoners had been
Police showed reporters machetes, blades, knives and other weapons
that were seized during a cell search on the day of the riot. Several
police officers were hurt in the melee.
Nazaire denied police reports that some prisoners were killed by other
inmates. “The police killed the prisoners because of their opposition to
their transfer and the detention conditions,” he said.
A lawyer defending several Aristide allies, Reynold George, said those
killed were political militants who came from the pro-Aristide slums.
“There is a plan to kill several other political prisoners from
Aristide’s party,” he said.