Five months after Haiti�s presidential election on February 7th, several thousand pre-trial detainees and political prisoners remain within Haiti�s horrid prisons. The list of political prisoners includes former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, folk-singer and activist So Ann Auguste, grassroots activist Paul Raymond, and well-known rara musician Yvon �Zap Zap� Antoine. The conditions inside the prisons are horrific. Prisoners in Haiti�s National Penitentiary, the country�s largest and most well-known prison, are often kept in unsanitary conditions with no access to medical care. Detainees are kept in over-crowded cells without lighting or ventilation, are sometimes barred access to washroom facilities, and are often beaten by prison guards during recreation times. Lavatory facilities are close to the prison�s water wells, raising concern about the contamination of water supplies.
At a press conference held on April 6th, 2006, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Haiti Thierry Fagart criticized the Haitian government for its treatment of prisoners. According to UN Spokesperson David Wimhurst, of the 4,034 people imprisoned nationwide, only 450 inmates (or 11%) had been convicted of any crime. In the case of Yvon Neptune, even Roger Noriega, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Hemispheric Affairs, has criticized the Haitian judiciary for its handling of his case, while Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay has publicly stated that he supports Neptune�s immediate release. Again according to Fagart, the vast majority of prisoners within Haiti�s jails are from poor neighbourhoods and lack access to basic legal counsel.
Although such recognition of the situation in Haiti�s prisons is certainly heartening, the Canadian government, as well as the UN, share a responsibility for the conditions within these prisons, the policy of arbitrary arrest within poor neighbourhoods on the part of the Haitian Police and the UN Forces, and the continuing state of impunity for the wealthy and powerful within Haiti�s judiciary.
The Haitian National Police, whose UN training has been led by Canadian RCMP officials since the summer of 2004, have consistently been carrying out a campaign of arbitrary imprisonment and human rights abuses within some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Haiti�s capital. Such acts of brutality have been documented in reports issued by Amnesty International, the Harvard School of Law, and the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami. Training for such �anti-gang raids� or �weapon sweeps� has commonly resulted in the rounding up of men and women from poor neighbourhoods, in a sort of �preventive detention.� Deadly shootings upon peaceful demonstrations of supporters of the ousted Lavalas government were commonplace prior to the February 7th election, as documented by reports from AP and Reuters.
Sadly, such practices seem to have been taken over by members of the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Increasingly, street youth within poor neighbourhoods have been targeted for pre-emptive arrests by the UN and HNP forces. A May 3rd, 2006 press conference held in Cite Soleil by the Haitian human rights organization AUMOHD culminated in a call by 200 community members and family of victims for reparations for human rights abuses and killings committed by UN forces.
MINUSTAH forces often detain Haitians who live in these neighbourhoods without warrant or charge, and then hand them over to the Haitian National Police for indefinite imprisonment. After the February 7th elections, these arrests continued, albeit to a much smaller degree, in neighbourhoods such as Pele. It should be pointed out that Canadian military and civilian personnel occupy prominent positions within the UN military command.
Canadian UNPOL officers were also present outside Haiti�s National Penitentiary on May 14th, 2006 after a number of prisoners broke out of their cells and staged a demonstration drawing attention to the illegality of their detention. Independent journalists videotaped Chinese UN soldiers firing into the prison during this demonstration. Prisoners claimed that 10 unarmed detainees were killed as a result.
Canada and Haiti�s Prisons
Canada has been one of the key donor countries contributing to the reform initiatives of the United Nations aimed at Haiti�s prisons. As noted by Thierry Fagart of the UN�s Human Rights Commission in a March 17, 2006 interview:
�Canadians in particular are very involved in the prisons area. Both at the UNDP and MINUSTAH, the guys who are in charge are all Canadians.�
Canadian officials, working through the capacity of the UN Development Program (UNDP) or MINUSTAH, offer training and other support to prison officials and guards. MINUSTAH also offers security at each of Haiti�s prisons.
Such logistical and security support is troubling due to the unsafe and brutal conditions found within Haiti�s prisons, as well as the tendency to offer special punishment for political detainees.
At present, the UNDP does not even provide regular monitoring of the human rights conditions within Haiti�s prisons.
Canada and Haiti�s Judiciary
For years, Haiti�s judiciary has been plagued by corruption and impunity. However, the international community, in its judicial reform programs, has particularly favoured judicial partners which have shown their absolute contempt for Haiti�s constitution, as well as basic human rights for Haiti�s poor.
In particular, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is known to be funding coordinating members of the Group of 184, a powerful �civil society� organization composed almost entirely of members of Haiti�s wealthy elite. The organization is led by sweatshop owner and industrialist Andre Apaid, who was amongst the leading proponents of the coup against elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February of 2004. Apaid has acknowledged ties to gang leaders, as noted in the University of Miami Centre for the Study of Human Rights report. The Group of 184 was also one of the main elements within Haiti which pressured the UN to �crack down� on �gang neighbourhoods� such as Cite Soleil. This crackdown has resulted in the killings of numerous civilians in many poor neighbourhoods, and culminated in the July 6th, 2005 raid which left 23 civilians dead in Cite Soleil, including women and children, according to reports from Medecins Sans Frontieres staff.
Canadian International Development Agency programs offer funding to the Haitian Judges Association (ANAMAH). ANAMAH�s director, Judge Jean Peres Paul, has demonstrated a total disregard for human rights and the rule of law in Haiti. Peres Paul kept the Catholic Priest Gerard Jean-Juste, a �prisoner of conscience� according to Amnesty International, in prison for six months, even after he was diagnosed with life-threatening leukemia. Peres Paul also recently presided over the release of seven police officers who were arrested in connection with the August 2005 Gran Ravine massacre in which twelve individuals were shot and hacked to death in a soccer stadium within the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood.
Such funding arrangements do little to establish an impartial judiciary that is willing to dispense equal justice to rich and poor Haitians. In addition, Canada has maintained CIDA funding for the clearly partisan �human rights� organization, the Reseau National du Defense des Droits Haitien (RNDDH), formerly known as NCHR-Haiti. RNDDH has been singularly responsible for the unfounded allegations that have kept Yvon Neptune in prison for over two years.
Even after a bi-partisan Canadian parliamentary delegation toured Haiti�s National Penitentiary in April of 2006, few critical questions of Canada�s role within Haiti�s judiciary were raised. Most delegation members simply praised Canadian officials working in Haiti while failing to address the difficult questions surrounding Canadian funding for organizations such as the RNDDH and members of the Group of 184. Sadly, such behaviour has followed the pattern of almost all of Canada�s members of Parliament; few have raised any questions of Canada�s involvement in Haiti, and none have expressly called for the release of illegally detained pre-trial detainees in Haiti�s prisons. Such silence has continued the policy of quiet consent to Canada�s shameful and anti-democratic role in Haiti, first initiated under the previous Liberal government.
Such silence is unacceptable. Despite the possibility of a release of Yvon Neptune in the coming weeks, the time is long overdue for the Canadian government to recognize its role in maintaining a system of impunity in Haiti�s judicial system. Such recognition is vital if Canada�s professed commitment to supporting democracy in Haiti is to be anything other than empty words.
As a result we, as members of the Canada Haiti Action Network, call upon the Canadian government to:
– Cease its interference in Haiti�s judicial system and thereby allow the new government to fulfill its declared goal of returning Haiti to the rule of constitutional law. Canada has provided key funding and personnel to the �Ministry of Justice� of the coup regime in Haiti, which has, in turn, presided over the jailings of hundreds of political prisoners.
– Support efforts of the elected Haitian government to break the pattern of impunity within Haiti�s justice system, and use all possible diplomatic means to pressure for the release of Haiti�s political prisoners and pre-trial detainees, including Yvon Neptune, So Ann Auguste, Yvon �Zap Zap� Antoine, and Paul Raymond.
– Withdraw all support and command personnel associated with UNPOL. This UN body has played a clear role in aiding and perpetrating human rights abuses throughout the country and has displayed no intent of altering its conduct.
– Cease all funding arrangements with the Haitian Judges Association (ANAMAH) as a result of its unequivocal support for a regime of human rights abuses that have reigned in Haiti since February of 2004.
– Cease all funding arrangements with any judiciary or �civil society� members of the Group of 184; Cease all CIDA funding to the biased and wilfully negligent �human rights� organization RNDDH/NCHR-Haiti.