Twenty Percent of Haiti’s Incarcerated Population Goes Free:
NCHR condemns the armed attack against the National Penitentiary
The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) vigorously condemns the armed attack against the National Penitentiary on Saturday, 19 February 2005 that claimed the life of an off-duty prison guard and resulted in the escape of an estimated four hundred and eighty-one (481) prisoners.
The attack, carried out by a commando consisting of no more than six (6) black-clad, heavily armed men in balaclavas, took place in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday. NCHR visits to the prison just an hour after the attack as well as the following day, Sunday 20 February 2005, confirmed that the principal gate of the prison was not damaged at all nor were any of the exterior prison walls, leading one to believe that the armed group encountered virtually no resistance and carried out their mission with ease.
The apparent lack of difficulty of the armed group to enter the prison leads one to question the degree and level of complicity between the armed group and prison guards on duty that day – a degree and level which NCHR believes to quite significant based on information gathered.
According to several remaining inmates, the attack took place during recreation time when cells were open and inmates were out in the yard. Many of them took cover in their cells when they heard the first shots. Approximately four hundred and eighty-one (481) of a total of one thousand two hundred and fifty-seven (1,257) others took advantage of the chaos and escaped. According to these same inmates, rumors of an attack had been circulating in the corridors of the prison for several days.
Preliminary results of NCHR’s on-going investigation has discovered that among those released are several high profile prisoners and individuals implicated in serious crimes such as kidnapping, murder, violence associated with Operation Baghdad, the La Scierie Massacre and drug trafficking. More than twenty (20) former police officers implicated in a series of crimes are also among those who escaped.
NCHR has verified and confirmed that former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert (implicated in the La Scierie Massacre, February 2004), and Gasner Perard and Hans Alan Théophilé (implicated in the murder of Frenchman Didier Mortet in June 2004) are currently in custody at the National Penitentiary after having been returned to the facility by the police sometime after the attack.
No reported injuries and/or deaths were reported among prisoners, and prisoners interviewed stated their lives were not placed in immediate danger by the armed men. One (1) prison guard was attacked and injured on his way to the prison and off-duty prison guard, Oméus Jean Marie Guerrier, was shot and killed in front of the prison as he drew his weapon in an effort to stop the attack.
Despite an apparent complicity between the attackers and prison staff, NCHR is extremely concerned for several of the prison guards working at the National Penitentiary. Information and documented cases of physical and verbal assault of prison guards by violent inmates over the past several weeks have been reported. Specific threats to kidnap and kill prison guards have been made by inmates citing the home addresses of individual guards. Some inmates even went as far as saying that prison authorities had better set up a separate cemetery for prison employees as they would soon need one. The inmates identified with having made the threats are among those who escaped in Saturday’s attack.
NCHR believes that the attack was carried out with such ease due to the current interim government’s negligence in responding to previous crises involving the country’s largest prison facility. Saturday’s attack took place less than three (3) months after a riot broke out at the National Penitentiary on 1 December 2004 during which ten (10) inmates were killed, seventeen (17) inmates suffered gunshot wounds, twenty-nine (29) inmates were physically mistreated, and six (6) prison guards wounded. (Refer to http://www.nchrhaiti.org/article.php3?id_article=214 for full report on the December incident). Despite the fact that the government promised to conduct a full and open investigation into the incident, to date no results of any such investigation have been made public.
Its failure to act swiftly and aptly –witnessing to the government’s weakness and vulnerability – are directly placing the general population in serious danger.
NCHR has been pressuring the transitional government to address the serious problems concerning Haitian prisons for several months (refer to NCHR reports Continuing Climate of Violence and Insecurity and Human Rights Violations of Individuals in Custody…at http://www.nchrhaiti.org/article.php3?id_article=218 and International Prisoners’ Day 2004 at http://www.nchrhaiti.org/article.php3?id_article=205). But NCHR’s recommendations have gone unheeded.
NCHR demands that the appropriate authorities react with wisdom and professionalism in responding to this recent crisis not only by opening a truly independent and transparent investigation for the purposes of informing the public as to what really happened on 19 February 2005, but also for the purposes of correcting past errors and preventing future violence and outbreaks.
Furthermore, NCHR strongly encourages the government, the Haitian National Police, and the State Prosecutor’s Office to develop an efficient and effective strategy to re-apprehend all those who have escaped from prison facilities across the country, not only from the National Penitentiary but also from the other detention centers that were completely emptied during the week prior to 29 February 2004. To facilitate this, NCHR recommends the publication of the names of all those who escaped as a result of Saturday’s attack on the National Penitentiary.
NCHR offers its sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Officer Oméus Jean Marie Guerrier who lost his life in the attack, and fervently recommends that the government do everything in its power to ensure the security, safety, and well-being of the other prison guards at the National Penitentiary, specifically those who have been identified and targeted by violent prisoners.