By STEVENSON JACOBS Associated Press Writer
� 2006 The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti � The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti on Friday condemned the jailing of thousands of people who have not been convicted of a crime, saying the practice violated prisoners’ human rights.
Only 10 percent of some 4,000 prisoners have been convicted, U.N. spokeswoman Marie-Evelyne Petrus-Barry said. The impoverished country’s largest prison, the national penitentiary, has grown so overcrowded that it can no longer admit inmates.
In a statement, the peacekeeping mission said the situation “is contrary to the universal principles of human rights and the guarantees of personal freedoms preached by Haiti’s Constitution and laws.”
The U.N. mission called on Haitian authorities to immediately appoint a commission to review each of the prisoners’ cases.
Officials at Haiti’s Justice Ministry did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
U.N. officials did not provide details about the prisoners’ legal status, but critics of the Haitian government have said they believe the vast majority have not been charged with a crime, let alone convicted.
Observers say Haitian courts are underfunded, overwhelmed by thousands of backlogged cases and have been repeatedly disrupted by political turmoil, a constant in Haiti’s history.
Haiti’s U.S.-backed interim government, appointed after a February 2004 revolt toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has pledged to reform the judiciary but has been hampered by a lack of personnel and equipment.
President-elect Rene Preval, whose strong backing among Haiti’s poor propelled him to victory in Feb. 7 elections, will be sworn in May 14.
Some inmates have been held for years without seeing a judge, and most have served more time than they would have if convicted, according to local rights groups.
“They’ve essentially been found guilty before even going to court,” said Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in New York.
McCalla blamed the failure to address the cases on a lack of political will and a shortage of legal professionals.
Critics have alleged that some of the detentions are politically motivated.
Among the more prominent inmates is Yvon Neptune, prime minister under Aristide. Neptune has been jailed since July 2004 on accusations that he masterminded the killings of political opponents before the revolt. Neptune denies the charges, and no trial date has been set.