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Haiti - Justice : Haitian penitentiary system, welcome to hell...
18/03/2015 11:07:15

Haiti - Justice : Haitian penitentiary system, welcome to hell...
Following his second mission in July 2014, Gustavo Gallón, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, considers the situation of human rights in Haiti to be complex but not insurmountable. In its report published in February 2015, the independent expert analyzes the efforts made to address five aspects of human rights identified in the previous report as deserving an urgent treatment : the eradication of illiteracy; prolonged pretrial detention; the realization of the elections; the repair of massive violations perpetrated in the past and the relocation worthy of the people displaced by the 2010 earthquake.

We share with you two excerpts from the report of Gustavo Gallón, namely the prolonged pretrial detention and prison conditions in Haiti, which we leave to your discretion...

Priority action to address prolonged pretrial detention :
"A second area that requires urgent action is the practice of prolonged pretrial detention. More than 70% of prisoners in Haiti are deprived of their liberty for years without appearing before a judge. For some of these individuals, the time spent in pretrial detention is longer than the sentence that might be handed down if they were convicted. This practice is clearly contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates in its article 9, paragraph 3, that anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge is to be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It is therefore crucial that steps be taken to ensure that persons held in prolonged pretrial detention are either tried or released within a reasonable period of time. This perverse judicial practice must be halted.

rgent action must be taken at the national level so that cases can be brought to trial or other solutions found for most of the 7,500 people who are being held in pretrial detention in the country’s seriously overcrowded detention facilities, which currently house over 10,500 prisoners.

As indicated in the Independent Expert’s previous report, the authorities are aware that this situation is not new and it is due in part to the shortage of investigating judges available to hear the cases of detainees. Aside from their insufficient numbers, these judges do not devote enough time to dealing with cases. According to the same sources, some judges spend a disproportionate amount of time giving classes or looking after personal affairs.

Various steps could be taken to keep this problem from getting worse. The Independent Expert has been informed that, on the instruction of the prosecutor’s office, a committee has been set up to monitor the situation of detentions in Les Cayes (Sud Department). The committee sits once a week to review the cases of persons being held in pretrial detention and orders releases as applicable.

Other measures relating to the administration of justice should be implemented at the national level. Currently, investigating judges cannot be reappointed immediately upon expiry of their mandate because they have to wait months to be issued a certificate of good conduct so that the Ministry of Justice can reappoint them. This practice paralyses the administration of justice as over 100 investigating judges are presently unable to investigate or preside in cases of persons being held in prolonged pretrial detention.

This procedure could be organized differently such that certification would be ready before expiry of their mandate. That way, judges could be reappointed without any interruption in their work.

The Independent Expert wishes to repeat the recommendation made to the authorities in his previous report that a small group of judges, assisted by law students in their final year of studies, should be appointed for a set period of time to examine the cases of prolonged pretrial detention and take a decision on them. Some high-ranking officials are aware of the situation and are working on possible solutions. The Minister for Human Rights informed the Independent Expert that she had asked the Minister of Justice to reopen before the end of October 2013 the office responsible for monitoring prolonged pretrial detention. That request should be made again.

As indicated above, the urgent need to address the matter of pretrial detention had also been identified by the Human Rights Committee. In its concluding observations on the initial report of Haiti, the Committee recommended that the State party should ensure that all persons who are arrested and detained enjoy the effective right to habeas corpus. It should also encourage courts to promote alternatives to deprivation of liberty for indicted persons, taking into account the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures. It should take urgent steps to address the situation of persons who have been in pretrial detention for many years in a way which will directly help reduce prison overcrowding. The State party should also take appropriate action to ensure the separation of remand and convicted prisoners and of adults and minors."

Other aspects concerning detention conditions :
"The country’s places of detention have a combined capacity to hold only 4,000 prisoners. They are extremely overcrowded and do not offer decent living conditions. This constitutes inhumane, cruel and degrading treatment.

The occupancy rate is 794 per cent of maximum capacity in the five most overcrowded prisons; that works out to 0.57 square metres per person (the standard is 4.5 square metres per prisoner). Fort-Liberté and Port-au-Prince have even higher rates, with almost three persons per square metre.

The prison in Les Cayes, in the Sud Department, has capacity for 100 persons. It currently holds 610 prisoners (474 “on remand” and 136 convicted, of whom 132 were men, 3 were women and 1 was a minor), according to information provided to the Independent Expert by the former government commissioner on 19 July 2014.

In the municipality of Aquin, also in the Sud Department, the Independent Expert visited the police station, which is used as a place of detention. The prisoners were divided among five cells: in one, there were three women; in another, there were two minors (who should not have been in custody); and in the remaining three, there were more adults than the space was designed to hold.

The judicial authorities in Aquin asked the Independent Expert to report that a detention facility is needed in that municipality and also in Les Côteaux, because convicted prisoners from these two places are confined in the prison in Les Cayes.

Sanitation conditions in places of detention are inadequate. The Independent Expert observed a lack of privacy and appropriate sanitation at the Aquin police station, including the absence of sewage drains. Similar situations had been found in the Port-au-Prince and Jacmel prisons during the previous mission.

As stated in the previous report, the national prison in Port-au-Prince, which is located in the town centre, will be demolished to make way for urban redevelopment. It is not yet known where the prisoners will be transferred, and this has generated concern.

Detention centres do not offer conditions that allow prisoners to work or study. The Prisons Administration is responsible for providing medical services and food but often does not have the funds or service agreements in place to ensure the supply of these services.

The Independent Expert is compelled to repeat the call made to the Haitian authorities in his previous report concerning the need to improve significantly the conditions in detention centres and, in particular, to improve health services, ensure availability of food and health care, provide settings that allow prisoners to work or study and add a more humane dimension to living quarters and recreational areas."

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