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Respecting prisoners' rights in Haiti
January 4, 2008
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Prisoners spoke out about overcrowding at Port-au-Prince National Penitentiary during an annual International Prisoners’ Day ceremony on Oct. 28.
For the past 10 years, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has supported Haiti’s prisoners through the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), a Haitian organization that monitors the treatment of prisoners across the country.
RNDDH and MCC staff members, prison officials and journalists were on hand for the day’s activities. Events included a religious service, an awards ceremony for winners of various prison activities and speeches by prisoners and officials.
Prisoners, given the chance to address the crowd, angrily denounced the inhumane conditions, demanded justice or mourned the death of fellow inmates.
International treaties require at least 4.5 meters of space for each inmate, but according to a report put out by the United Nations Development Program, in the National Penitentiary the actual figure is less than one square meter of space per inmate, forcing them to sleep in shifts. In addition, less than 10 percent of the inmates have actually been convicted of a crime. Most are awaiting trial.
The director of the Prison Authority, Clifford Larose, agreed prison conditions are unacceptable. "We are doing everything that we can, and we know that it is not enough. International Prisoners’ Day is not a day for celebration…" he said. "Let’s take this day to ask ourselves, all of us, what more can we do to lift this nation’s prisons out of abject misery."
Kurt Hildebrand, an MCC worker who attended the ceremony, said, "I was impressed by the courage of the state authorities to acknowledge these problems, and the courage of the inmates to speak out against them, demand better treatment, and continue to hope that a better future is possible."