Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haitian president seeks U.N. help in forming commission on prisoner shootings

By JACQUELINE CHARLES – McClatchy Newspapers

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Haitian President Rene Preval has asked the United Nations for help in forming an independent commission to investigate allegations that dozens of prisoners were shot by Haitian police during a jail riot in the southern city of Les Cayes a week after the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The allegations of the shootings surfaced over the weekend in a story by The New York Times, which said there were indications Haitian officials were covering up the suspected shootings.

“It will be a joint U.N.-Haiti independent commission,” Edmond Mulet, the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general, told McClatchy Newspapers on Tuesday. The independent commission, he said, was Preval’s idea.

Mulet said the findings of the human rights section of the U.N. Stabilization Mission, along with what the Haitian National Police, ministry of justice and special rapporteur discover, will be submitted to the independent commission.

The United Nations had already launched an internal inquiry into the suspected killings by police earlier this month.

According to the Times, it appeared 12 to 19 prisoners were killed and up to 40 wounded by gunshots in the largely unnoticed riots that occurred while Haiti was still trying to dig itself out from under the rubble of the 7.0-magnitude quake.

The newspaper said the riot started when 467 prisoners tried to escape from the overcrowded jail in the midst of aftershocks. Haitian police and U.N. peacekeepers from Senegal surrounded the prison to prevent the escape, but at some point Haitian police allegedly went in and began shooting.

In Washington, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would give Haiti $2 billion over the next two years for reconstruction efforts. The committee had been prepared to authorize $3.5 billion over the next five years, but Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the committee would revisit the work after several years, “and respond accordingly.”

“This legislation is an important signal to President Preval and the government of Haiti that the United States is committed to helping Haiti rebuild in a way that leaves it better off and better prepared,” Kerry said.

U.S. POLICY

The bill also calls for a senior Haiti policy coordinator who would be responsible for overseeing U.S. policy toward Haiti.

The move came as President Barack Obama on Monday signed into law a bill that gives Haiti trade benefits.

The Obama administration has asked for $2.8 billion in aid for Haiti. The money is in a war spending bill currently being debated in the Senate.

(Staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington.)

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