[Translation of an article from Agence Haïtienne de Presse for May 31.]
A little more than 11 years ago today, a national police patrol systematically executed 11 youths in the poor area of Carrefour-Feuilles in Port-au-Prince. More precisely, it was on May 28, 1999. That was during the first administration of President René Préval. At that time the prime minister was Jacques Edouard Alexis.
That massacre aroused general condemnation and protests locally and internationally. But the head of state made the correct decision to conduct an investigation, which led to trials for those accused and to their conviction.
But 11 years later, Jacques Edouard Alexis is still the only one to “ pay” as a consequence of that event, as though nothing had ever happened at the level of the judiciary .
Indeed, the liberal government of Paul Martin, accused of being too receptive to calls from Alexis’ political adversaries, added his name to a black list of persons prohibited from traveling to Canada, accusing him of crimes against humanity.
So today, 11 years later almost to the day, we are confronted with a massacre practically the same, if not worse, than that perpetrated on May 28, 1999.
Indeed, on January 19, 2010, a week after the January 12 earthquaske that caused some 300,000 deaths, when the instinct should have been to save the living, the “police without faith or law” are accused of having slaughtered in cold blood more than a dozen prisoners who were trying to flee during the general panic that overtook the country after the catastrophe.
At the Port-au-Prince National Penitentiary in Les Cayes, in Croix-des-Bouquets, as elsewhere, the impulse of the prisoners was to protect themselves. For, shaken and tormented by the regular aftershocks and left practically to their own devices during the first days after the tremor, Haitians in general and the prisoners in particular could not know whether the magnitude seven would be followed by another even more violent tremor somewhere in the country.
And naturally no one at that time would want to be in the cell of an unsafe prison for which nobody even had the key.
At the Les Cayes prison, police authorites tried to invent a mutiny, followed by an escape attempt, so they could then accuse a gang leader of killing his fellow prisoners because they had refused to join in the scheme.
It’s all obvious.
But in fact, all the witnesses declare the contrary: the unarmed prisoners had tried to save themselves but most of them had been forced to lie face down and had then been executed and thrown into common graves, as was being done in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake.
The massacre of the prisoners is one thing but the handling of the massacre by the authorities is of an unequaled seriousness.
One can understand that the Port-au-Prince authorities, caught up in the post-quake whirlwind and the confusion, would not react in the first days after the slaughter; but to wait more than four months, or for a report in the New York Times, to announce an investigation, that is something revolting…
The legal authorites have intervened vigorously, at every turn, when it comes to the urgent need to neutralize fugitives from the central Port-au-Prince prison without ever, not one single time, bringing up the much more serious case of the massacre at Les Cayes.
But, according to certain authorites, the government knew nothing about the massacre… until the report in the New York Times?
In any case, the newspaper says there was a clear will to cover up this embarassing affair, on the part of both the Haitian authorities and MINUSTAH.
The UN mission, which is here to help in “the reinforcement of democracy and respect for human rights,” remained no less mute about this massacre for more than four months but quickly distanced itself when the New York daily made it public, leaving the national police alone in the spotlight.
Better late than never. Haitian authorities have an interest in acting quickly and well in this case, since it is not by any means less serious a violation of human rights than that of May 28, 1999, which still to this day has repercussions. And then, as the UN says, how can one think of reconstructing the country without establishing the rule of law or, as others add, while some try to cover up a massacre of such magnitude.
For many people, after the Les Cayes massacre and the attemp to to blame a gang leader for the occurences, one can no longer give credence to certain statements about the cases of fugitives from the national prison being lynched by the population.
The formula these days is that wherever there is a murder, an assault or any other reprehensible act, there must have been an escapee. An open door to all sorts of abuse.
Human rights organizations, if they decide today to make a non-partisan effort, should have the strength and the objectivity it takes to intervene in all cases, regardless of the political affinites of the victims.