Haitian prison officers are alleged to have killed 12 detainees "deliberately and without justification," using "inappropriate, abusive and disproportionate force" during a January 19 prison uprising, according to an independent commission, the New York Times [media website] reported [text] Thursday. The Times obtained an exclusive copy of the commission's report, which said the incident involved "grave violations of human rights." The uprising occurred just days after Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake [JURIST news archive], which killed more than 200,000 people and left some one million homeless. The commission found that 14 others were wounded when the officers fired into a crowd of unarmed detainees, and, although the commission could only confirm 12 deaths, more are believed to have been killed. The event was originally covered up by local authorities in Les Cayes, but a Times investigation caused a commission to be formed [JURIST report] to inquire into the incident. The commission found it difficult to confirm the deaths because of contradictory reports, because many of the bodies had been already been buried and because some of the prisoners involved were transferred and died from other causes. The commission warned that lessons must be learned from the incident and it is evidence of the poor conditions of Haitian prisons and lack of adequately trained prison officers.
The commission was funded by both the Haitian government and the UN and was composed of three foreign and two Haiti experts led by Lt. Gen. Salvatore Carra of Italy and Florence Elie, Haiti's ombudsman. The January earthquake strained the Haiti prison system and allowed many prisoners to escape. In February, the acting head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti [official website] urged Haitians to turn in prisoners who escaped [JURIST reports] when the earthquake destroyed prisons and jails. The aftermath of the earthquake also placed a strain on detainees arrested since the disaster, as limited space and limited access to judges burdened the country's already tenuous criminal justice system.