Friday, January 27, 2012

Verdict in Haiti prison massacre case

A national judge sentenced 8 members of Haiti's national police force to some of the very same conditions over which they once reigned.
Last week's verdict and sentence arose from the officers' involvement in the 2010 prison massacre in Les Cayes.
In the chaos immediately following the January 12, 2010, earthquake, detainees in the Les Cayes prison – out of fear of returning to the inside the building – tried to sleep in the prison's courtyard. The prison's warden, Sylvestre Larack, refused to let them stay, triggering a rebellion that was quelled by excessive force, in the opinion of an independent commission that examined the event.
When detainees tried to escape the facility shortly thereafter, guards responded with a hail of gunfire and tear gas that left between 12 and 15 persons dead. Some of the victims, all of whom were unarmed, had been shot in the head or beaten to death. In the wake of the massacre, prison guards denied wounded inmates medical care and hid and rearranged bodies to mask their crimes.
Larack himself, as well as the chief of Haiti's antiriot police, Olritch Beaubrun, were accused of having participated in the killings.
The verdict and sentences cap a trial that was seen as a test of Haiti's fragile judicial system, which has long been regarded as promoting impunity for human rights abuses committed by state actors.
During the three months of trial, participants faced numerous challenges, including attempts to intimidate the presiding judge and a malfunctioning generator, which plunged the proceedings into darkness. Nonetheless, 2 years after the Les Cayes massacre, Judge Ezekiel Vaval sentenced 8 of the 14 officers accused of participating in the killings to terms of imprisonment and hard labor, ranging from 2 to 13 years. Larack was sentenced to 7 years, and Beauburn received 13.
While neither of these sentences reflects the state prosecutor's request for life imprisonment, Florence Élie (right), Director of Haiti's Office de Protection du Citoyen, speculated that the judge hoped to avoid longterm acrimony between between the judiciary and the police. (photo credit)
Moreover, the mere conclusion of the trial is being seen as a victory of sorts for the Haitian justice system. According to one defense attorney, "the fact that we had a verdict at all is a big deal for Haiti."
The proceedings might also shed renewed light on conditions in Haiti's prisons, which have long been regarded as among the worst in the world on account of extreme overcrowding, limitless pretrial detention, and nonexistent medical care. Several human rights groups have denounced such conditions as "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment."

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