UN accused of slaughter inside Haiti's National Penitentiary
May 18, 2006
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Political prisoners standing on the rooftop of "The Titanic" lift the corpse of one of the victims. Hundreds of prisoners continued singing and chanting optimistic support of their new President Rene Preval. May 14, 2006 - All photos 2006 Randall White

UN accused of slaughter inside Haiti's National Penitentiary

Prisoners claim ten were killed

by Randall White

HaitiAction.net - Port au Prince — While Président-elect René Préval was attending a special inaugural mass on May 14 at the Port-au-Prince Cathedral in Haiti's, UN peacekeepers apparently opened fire on a demonstration inside the National Penitentiary. Prisoners took over the facility at about 9 a.m. as a protest in solidarity with incoming president Preval, to condemn the holding of political prisoners and the return of exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

According to the UN more than 90% of detainees in Haiti's prisons are in pre-trial detention, and that most have been in jail for more than two years without seeing a judge.

Displaying large banners from a high rooftop within the penitentiary compound, prisoners also shouted to journalists below that U.N. forces had killed ten protestors as they opened fire earlier in the morning. Haiti Information Project (HIP) correspondents were at the scene and Director Kevin Pina videotaped the UN action. The footage clearly shows MINUSTAH soldiers shooting at the demonstrators above on a secured catwalk inside the prison. Prisoners raised the corpses of two victims they claimed were shot by UN sharpshooters. While attempting to cover the story from the street below Pina was forcefully restrained by a contingent of Jordanian soldiers who claimed that it was too "dangerous" for anyone to enter the area.

How the prisoners got out of their cells remained unclear while some in the local Haitian press were claiming that a few guards were responsible. The breakout and protest came on the heels of the arrest of well-known Lavalas activist and community organizer Rene Civil. Civil had attempted to enter Haiti from the Dominican Republic the night before and was detained by U.N. forces and then turned over to the Haitian police. Rene Civil, along with Annette Auguste and Paul Raymond, are seen as the most popular community level leaders of Aristide's Lavalas movement among Haiti's poor. Auguste was arrested by U.S. Marines in May 2004 and Raymond was arrested last year in the Dominican Republic by police and a U.S. embassy security detachment. Auguste and Raymond have been held in prolonged detention without trial amid shifting allegations and charges. Their fates remain unclear to this day.

Families and friends of the prisoners left a large crowd gathering in front of Haiti's National Palace for Preval's inauguration celebration after hearing about the incident. Several thousand marched to the penitentiary to demonstrate their solidarity with the prisoners as U.N. soldiers fought to hold the crowd back. Loud wails and screams came from the crowd upon seeing the bodies of dead prisoners as the survivors of the shooting held them above their heads for all to see from the street below.

The stand-off ended calmly despite the earlier violence as Haitian police took control of the compound and brown uniformed members of the Corps d'Intervention et de Maintien d'Ordre (CIMO) cleared the rooftop. As the last of the prisoners were cleared from the roof the crowd below began chanting "Down with the U.N., Long Live CIMO!!" and "Free the political prisoners and arrest Latortue!!" Gerard Latortue is the U.S.-installed prime minister who has benn accused of innumerable human right violations during the past two years including the holding of political prisoners in Haiti.

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