Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Panel on Haitian Prison Deaths

By Deborah Sontag, New York Times

The Haitian government and the United Nations are establishing a joint commission of inquiry into the Jan. 19 killings of a dozen or more inmates at a prison in Les Cayes, Haiti.

President René Préval of Haiti asked for the United Nations’ help in investigating the episode, said David Wimhurst, a United Nations spokesman. The request came after an article in The New York Times on Sunday that was an investigation into the shooting deaths.

The Times’s investigation indicated that the Haitian police fatally shot unarmed inmates after storming the prison at the end of an uprising. The evidence found by The Times also suggested that local authorities then sought to cover up the use of lethal force; many bodies were buried in an unmarked grave, and the surviving detainees’ blood-stained clothing was burned. Authorities attributed the killings, which this week was a focus of the Haitian news media, to an inmate who escaped and has disappeared.

The investigation will supersede one that had been undertaken by United Nations officials.

Also this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a post-earthquake aid package that would give Haiti $2 billion over two years. Included in the bill, which now goes before the full Senate, is a condition attached by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, that no money be appropriated for Haiti’s justice reform efforts until “a thorough, credible and transparent investigation” of the “extrajudicial killings of prisoners by Haitian police” in Les Cayes has been completed and until Haiti has taken “appropriate action.”

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