RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY, AND PERSONAL SECURITY
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person.1
A. Constitutional Provisions
1. Article 5 of the 1964 Constitution of Haiti, as amended in 1971, expressly declares that: “The life and liberty of Haitians are sacred and must be respected by individuals and by the State.”
2. Nonetheless, Article 25 provides for capital punishment in the case of treason: “Capital punishment may not be imposed for any political offense except treason.” This article defines treason as “taking up arms against the Republic of Haiti, joining avowed enemies of Haiti, and giving them aid and comfort.”
B. Individual denunciations of violations of the right to life
3. A communication of July 8, 1971 denounced the arbitrary detention of Joseph Nicolas Gaetjens, a Haitian citizen, who was arrested in Port-au-Prince on July 8, 1964 at 10:00 a.m. by an armed, uniformed police officer, Lt. Edouard Guillot, and by two armed plain clothes men. The arrest took place in the presence of numerous people. The complainant states that since that time, there has been no more information about Mr. Gaetjens, his whereabouts or his situation as a whole. It is stated that no proof has been shown that he was brought before the competent authorities, and that there is fear for his life.
The government of Haiti has not replied to the Commission’s request for information on this affair, with the result that, at its thirtieth session, the IACHR decided to invoke Article 51 of its Regulations, and presume the events denounced to be confirmed; the Commission advised the Haitian authorities that these facts constitute an extremely serious violation of the right to freedom and personal security.
The fact that Mr. Gaetjens, a football player of international standing, has not been seen since his detention in 1964, leads to the conclusion that he is dead since he was in the hands of the Haitian authorities under circumstances that have never been made public.
4. In a letter dated January 20, 1972, the Commission was informed as follows:
On April 26, 1963, between two and three in the afternoon, Roland Chassagne, who worked in the workshop of the Deschamps Company, located on the Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines in Port-au-Prince, was arrested by four Tonton-Macoutes, who were under the command of a certain attorney named Durand, who lived on Clerveaux street in Petionville. Georges Chassagne, brother of Roland Chassagne, was a witness to the arrest. The group left in a car in the general direction of the Department of the Interior, the Police Headquarters, and the National Palace.
A few minutes later, Georges Chassagne learned that his brother had been taken to Fort Dimanche.
Georges Chassagne obtained an interview with the State Secretary of the Interior, to whom he recounted his brother’s illegal arrest, and demanded that he be released. The Secretary responded that the question would be studied, but since that time no further information was provided.
The government reports that no person of that name was arrested on the date indicated, and made no comment when documents providing these facts were sent to it. The IACHR, in its thirtieth session, invoked Article 51, and presumed the events denounced to be true, declaring that this was an extremely serious violation of human rights.
During the Special Commission’s visit to Haiti, the government provided a “List of requests for death certificates,” in which the name of Roland Chassagne appears. It indicated that Mr. Maurice Vilaire had filed a request on May 2, 1978. In January 1979, the government was asked to provide more extensive information with regard to this request. The government did so, but did not indicate the circumstances of death.
Another case brought to the Commission’s attention is that of Hubert Legros. The Commission was informed that Legros had been detained without trial and without any preliminary investigation by the State’s attorney, for a period of two and a half years until December 1972, at which time, he appeared on the list of 72 people granted amnesty by President Jean Claude Duvalier. It was subsequently alleged that three weeks after being released, Legros was arrested and imprisoned in Fort Dimanche because he had supported other prisoners who had been pardoned but who had not been released. In a note dated August 28, 1975, the government reported that Hubert Legros had “received clemency from the President-for-Life of the Republic, which reduced his sentence.” The government has never informed the Commission of the details of the trial nor of the sentence which was subsequently reduced. The IACHR received this information, from the government, but the circumstances regarding his death were not explained. The government informed the IACHR on October 5, 1977 that as regards the request for more specific information, “it is up to his parents to file a petition with the civil courts in Port-au-Prince, which will shortly provide them with all the necessary information.”
The name of Legros appears on the “List of requests for death certificates,” with the observation that Mrs. Andrée Bruts asked for a decision on June 29, 1978.
6. On March 10, 1971, the Commission received a cable asking it to intervene in the affair of 14 people arrested in April 1970, who had been given a secret trial.
Despite repeated demands, notably with respect to Kesner Blain, the government replied only in general terms questioning the Commission’s jurisdiction in this area.
With regard to another case, the government informed the IACHR as follows: “Ex-colonel Kesner Blan will be brought before a military court and tried by his peers in the regular manner for the crime of conspiracy and high treason.”
The Commission asked for specific information on the question of Kesner Blain on September 19, 1977. It particularly asked about the date on which he was brought to trial and about the sentence he was given. Instead of providing the information asked for, the government informed the Commission that “the parents of Ex-colonel Kesner Blain may file a petition with the civil courts of Port-au-Prince, which will shortly provide them with all the necessary information.”
C. Other deaths in prison
7. After the visit of the Special Commission, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sent the Government a note on September 11, 1978, with the following list of 151 individuals who, according to the allegations of accusers, were executed while in prison or who died in prison because of lack of medical care.
List of dead prisoners
AUGUSTERE cell 1, Plaine du Cul de Sac, poet, journalist, arrested in January 1971, released in December 1972, re-arrested in January 1973, died in 1975 of diarrhea.
Joseph ALEXANDRE cell 3, known as Djo Malanca, Port-au-Prince, died on November 1, 1975, of physical weakness and mental illness.
Gérard AUGUSTIN cell 1, St. Marc, 53 years old, sociologist, imprisoned 3 times, died on September 19 at 4:00 p.m. of tuberculosis.
Marcus ANDRE cell 7, Jérémie, professor, died in 1975 of diarrhea.
Jean-Claude ALEXANDRE cell 7, Jérémie, professor, died in 1975 of diarrhea.
Ezéchiel ABELARD cell 6, died in September 1976 of tuberculosis.
Massena ANIBOT cell 8, died in August 1976 of tuberculosis and malnutrition, a peasant from l’Arcahaie.
Robert ACHADE cell 7, Arcahaie, died in 1975.
Joseph BRIOLLI cell 4, Port-au-Prince, a former macoute, died in 1976 of diarrhea and tuberculosis
Jean-Robert BELLEVUE cell 1, Plaine du Cul de Sac, professor of history, died in August 1975 of tuberculosis.
Georges BISRETE cell 2, Fond des Blancs, speculator, died in February 1976 of rheumatism and tuberculosis.
André BIEN-AIME cell 3, Cayes, worked in the Chamber of Deputies, died in July 1976 of malnutrition.
Renel BAPTISTE cell 7, Jacmel, lived in the Dominican Republic, worked in Africa on filming The Comedians, died on July 19, 1974 of tuberculosis.
Fred BAPTISTE cell 1, Jacmel, died on June 16, 1974 of tuberculosis and mental illness.
Justin BERTRAND cell 5, Port-au-Prince, a former macoute chief, died on August 26, 1975 of tuberculosis and diarrhea.
Ronel BERTRAND cell 2, Port-au-Prince, a former macoute chief, died in February 1976 of rheumatism and tuberculosis.
Paul BLANC cell 4, husband of the deputy Madame Paul Blanc, died in July 1976 of diarrhea.
Kesner BLAIN cell 3, Port-au-Prince, ex-colonel, died on February 1, 1976 of tuberculosis.
Fritz BAUDET cell 3, Port-au-Prince, coastguard, died in July 1975 of tuberculosis
Noly BURON cell, sailor, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Jean-Claude BOUCICAUT cell 4, Port-au-Prince, former macoute, died in January 19, of tuberculosis.
Hora BATISTAIN cell 3, tin-smith, died in February 1973 of typhoid.
Julien BANO cell 1, Arcahaie, died in 1975 of diarrhea.
Henri BAFARD cell 4, Thiotte region, died in January 1973.
Sifra CESAR cell 8, died in 1972 of tuberculosis.
Daul COMPERE* executed on August 7, 1974.
Muscadet CAJUSTE cell 8, former corporal in the Police Department, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
León CHERY cell 2, Cayes, an old man in his sixties, died on December 10, 1976 of physical weakness.
Gilbert CADOSTIN cell 2, chauffeur, died on October 2, 1976, of tuberculosis.
Camille CEBASTIEN cell 1, Port-au-Prince, pharmacist, owner of the Pharmacie de Lion, died in 1976 of lung congestion.
Jean Roland CELESTIN cell 1, Port-au-Prince, topographer, died in 1975 of typhoid and tuberculosis.
Paul DONNEUR cell 7, Port-au-Prince, artisan, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
Ambroise DESRAVINES cell 7, Port-au-Prince, artisan, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
Serge DE RUISSEAU cell 3, Arcahaie, student, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Murat DARELUS cell 1, Pétion-Ville, carpenter, died in February 1975.
Kernisan DUPONT National Penitentiary, Méyotte, Pétion-Ville, workman, died in 1975 of liver disease.
Ronald DUCHEMIN* executed in March 1976.
Guelo DACCUEIL cell 3, Arcahaie, peasant, 48 years old, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Horace DACCUEIL cell 7, Arcahaie, peasant, brother of Guelo, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
Fritz DUGASON cell 5, Jérémie, mechanic, died on June 2, 1975 of tuberculosis.
Clothaire DORNEVAL cell 5, Arcahaie, died on January 24, 1976 of hypertension.
Raphael DELVA cell 1, Gonaives, died in June 1976 of tuberculosis.
Jean-Claude DUVAL cell 9, worked at Alpha, died on December 5, 1975 of tuberculosis and physical weakness.
Ovèz DUQUESNE died in August 1976.
Thomas DOMINIQUE cell 6, Plaine du Cul de Sac, chauffeur, died in July 1976 of tuberculosis.
Cadeau Jean DERISIE cell 1, Nan Bannanan, section chief, died in July 1976 of tuberculosis.
Arche DENIS cell 1, Port-au-Prince, son of Lorimer Denis (co-author with François Duvalier of a number of books), former spy who made his reports directly to Duvalier, arrested by Luc Désir after the death of François Duvalier, died in 1976 of typhoid.
Vénèque DUCALIRON National Penitentiary, died in 1973.
Serge DONATIEN cell 1, Artibonite, arrested in February 1975, 25 years old, died in March 1976 of diarrhea.
DATO cell 1, section chief of Thiotte, died in 1976.
Jacques DELILLE died in 1975.
Servilus EXANTUS cell 7, Cul de Sac, attorney, professor, released in 1972, arrested again in January 1973, died in July 1976 of tuberculosis.
Ponax EXANTUS cell 8, Arcahaie, student, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
Rameau ESTIME cell 1, deputy, Duvalier supporter from the first, died on May 13, 1976 of diarrhea and malnutrition.
Wilterm ESTIME cell 5, died in 1976.
Gesulmé EUGENE cell 1, Plaine du Cul de Sac, teacher, released in 1972, arrested again in 1973, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
EXANTE cell 2, Arcahaie, died in 1976.
Francis FILS-AIME cell 1, Fort-Liberté, former léopard, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Pierre REQUIERE cell 2, Port-au-Prince (Delmas), workman, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
René FRANEX* executed on August 7, 1974.
Marie-Thérese FEVAL* executed on August 7, 1974.
Rikitt FLORESTAL* executed on August 7, 1974.
Marcel GUERRIER cell 5, Plaine du Cul de Sac, died on October 6, 1975 of tuberculosis
Marie Thérese GASNER cell 10, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Pierre GUERRIER died in 1976.
Jean HORNER Duvalierville, coastguard, died in 1975.
Fritz ICARD cell 2, Miragoane, died on November 13, 1975 of mental illness.
Gérard JOSEPH cell 7, known as Ibert Jn. Baptiste, Gonaives, arrested on July 3, 1973, Place Ste. Anne, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
Dagobert JEAN cell 2, Hinche, former léopard, died in April 1976 of pleurisy.
Théocel JEAN died in April 1976 in the National Penitentiary.
Ricot JUNIOR died in August 1975 in the National Penitentiary.
Pierre JEAN* known as D’Haiti, executed in March 1976.
Maurice JEAN BAPTISTE cell 1, Jacmel, died on December 4, 1976 of diarrhea.
Samson JEAN-BAPTISTE* executed on August 7, 1974.
Antonio JEAN-BAPTISTE CELL 3, Jérémie, typographer, worked in the State Printing Office, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Lucio JULES cell 3, Jérémie, died on October 10, 1976 of typhoid.
Alius JOLIMO cell 3, Plaine du Cul de Sac, peasant, died in 1975 of pleurisy.
Vergnaut JOSEPH cell 6, attorney, and old man of 60 years of age, died in 1976 of physical weakness.
Morency JEAN cell 3, Marchand, peasant, died in 1977 of tuberculosis.
Franck JASSIN cell 7, Port-au-Prince (Section Sou Dalle), teacher, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Lession JOSEPH cell 6, Arcahaie, hougan (voodoo priest), died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
Saint-Vilus JEAN PIERRE cell 5, Plaine du Cul de Sac, peasant, died on March 10 of infectious diarrhea and pulmonary tuberculosis.
Antoine JEAN NOEL cell 3, Quanaminthe, died on February 1974 of malaria and physical weakness.
Resius JEAN BAPTISTE cell 1, Pétion-Ville, died in February 1975, constipated for 22 days.
Emmanuel JEAN POIS cell 1, Croix des Bouquets, shopkeeper, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
Henri JEAN cell 4, Port-au-Prince, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Oswald JULES Verrettes, Assistant Government Commissioner, died in 1976.
Chery LOUISSAINT cell 8, Arcahaie, student, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Marcel LAFORET cell 8, Jérémie, agronomist, living in St. Marc, producer of “Niko”, “clairin” (local rum drink), died in July 1975 of tuberculosis and mental illness.
Pierre LAURENT cell 8, Port-au-Prince, tailor, arrested after the Gaillard affair, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
Hubert LEGROS cell 6, Port-au-Prince, died on December 19, 1975 at 5:00 a.m. of diarrhea and tuberculosis.
Loner LIVERT cell 5, Port-à-Piment, student, died on July 19, 1976 of tuberculosis.
Rodrigue LAFORTUNE cell 5, Plaine du Cul de Sac, peasant, died on November 18, 1975 of tuberculosis.
Ives MUZAC cell 1, Jacmel, student, died in June 1976 of tuberculosis.
Gérard MICHEL died in 1975.
MERCERON cell 7, known as Guantanamo, Port-au-Prince, sailor, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
MENELAS cell 8, known under the name of Aysi, Plaine du Cul de Sac, brought up in the Dominican Republic, former jailer in the Great Prison, involved with Kesner Blain, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Cheres Louis MAX cell 2, Plaine du Cul de Sac, peasant, died in October 1975 of tuberculosis.
Louis NOEL cell 6, Quanaminthe, died in 1976 of a liver ailment.
Jean NAPOLEON Croix des Bouquets, died in December 1972.
Jean Marc NERESTAN cell 3, Port-à-Piment, tailor, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Semonvil OSIAS cell 2, Cap-Haitien, attorney, died in June 1975.
Cambrone OBANO cell 8, Arcahaie, died in July 1976 of diarrhea.
Charles OCTA Arcahaie, died in 1975 of diarrhea.
Salma PIERRE-PAUL cell 3, St. Marc, lawyer, professor, died on September 17 of tuberculosis.
PIPIRITE cell 3, Barradère, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
Charles PIERRE* executed on August 7, 1974.
Darty PHILIPPE cell 3, Limbé, died in November 1973 of tuberculosis.
Oveny PAUL* executed on August 7, 1974.
Luc PIERRE-PAUL cell 2, Port-au-Prince, accountant working with an English insurance company, died in July 1976, suffering from mental illness.
Jacques PAUL cell 8, Port-au-Prince, son of Paulette Sicot, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Lubin PIERRE-LOUIS cell 5, Arcahaie, died on November 1, 1975 of physical weakness.
Edouard PIERRE arrested in 1974, died in 1975.
Eddy PRICE died in March 1976.
Des PREDESTANT* executed in August 1974.
Jean-Claude PHANOR cell 2, former léopard, died on May 3, 1976.
Ronald PERARD* executed in August 1974.
Bertrand RAYMOND cell 1, known as Ti Baron, Plaine du Cul de Sac, professor, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
Jean-Louis ROY* executed in March 1976.
Jean ROBERT cell 6, alias Derecul, Arcahaie, coastguard, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Timothé ROSSINI cell 6, mason, Arcahaie (Carrefour Pois), died in 1975 of diarrhea.
RAOUL cell 4, former detective, militia-man, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
ROMEL cell 7, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
Annouce REBECCA cell 3, Cavaillon, former militia-man, died on October 10, 1972 of tuberculosis.
REYNOLD companion of Dagobert Jean (former léopard), died in October 1976.
Jilmiste SYLVESTRE cell…, shoemaker, Port-au-Prince, died on November 1, 1976 of tuberculosis.
Thelismon SALADIN cell 1, La Tremblay, peasant, died on December 31, 1976.
Raymond SAINT-LOUIS died on September 11, 1976 of tuberculosis.
John SOUFFRANT* executed on August 7, 1974.
Georges ST. MERZIER cell 4, Jérémie, scrap merchant, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Jean-Claude ST. LOUIS cell 7, Port-au-Prince, died on November 13, 1975 of tuberculosis.
Luc ST. VIL cell 5, Fort-Liberté, former léopard, died in September 1976 of tuberculosis.
Gasner SIMEON cell 7, sailor en route to Nassau, ran aground at Guantanamo, handed over to the Haitian government by an American boat, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
SANTIAGUE cell 7, Arcahaie, former sergeant, died in October 1976 of diarrhea.
Jacques ST. AMAND
Reynold TIMOLEON* executed on August 7, 1974.
Alix THOMAS* executed on August 7, 1974.
Clarel TERVIL* executed in March 1976.
TINTIN cell 9, Limbé, died in 1971 of tuberculosis.
Thelismon TONY La Tremblay (Croix des Bouquets) arrested in 1969, released in 1972, re-arrested in February 1973, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
Auguste THENOR cell 1, died in December 1974.
Edner THEAGENE died in 1975.
Jean Rifla VASSEAU* executed in March 1976.
Joseph VILFORT cell 3, Kenscoff, tinsmith, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
Théophile VICTOME cell 5, Cazale, died on January 2, 1975 of tuberculosis.
Pierre Michel VITAL cell 6, Jérémie, released then re-arrested, died in February 1977 of tuberculosis.
Volmar VOLCY cell 6, died in July 1976.
Durena WASHINGTON cell 5, coastguard, died on October 19, 1974, of rheumatism.
Ellie WELLINGTON cell …, son of Jamaica, well-known in Port-au-Prince, died in October 1976 of tuberculosis and physical weakness.
Romuls VILBRUN cell 3, Plaine du Cul de Sac, cabinet-maker, died on February 16, 1977 of tuberculosis.
It should be noted that most of the deaths, according to allegations, occurred in 1975 and 1976. According to this information, the principal causes of death were tuberculosis (71 cases) and diarrhea (22), in addition to physical exhaustion, malnutrition and other ailments generally related to the lack of satisfactory medical care.
The case of 17 individuals who, it is said, were executed in 1974 and 1976 is examined later in the present chapter.
It should be noted that while it is true that more than half the deaths occurring in jail took place, according to allegations, as recently as 1976, the list contains only two deaths in 1977 and no reported cases in 1978.
In a note dated October 6, 1978, the government acknowledged that a number of individuals had died in jail. The pertinent parts of the text read as follows:
Within its means, the Haitian government has always provided medical and other care to prisoners. Doubtless, some individuals were unable to accustom themselves to the prison system, and a number of deaths resulted from this, which is to be deplored. Moreover, the individuals whose names appear on the list sent to us are dangerous terrorists responsible for numerous acts of vandalism; some of them died, weapons in hand, during altercations with the forces of order.
In a note of December 27, 1978, the Commission asked the government for more specific information, notably for the names of individuals who had died in prison, and of those who “had died, weapons in hand.” To date, no response to this request has been forthcoming.
Nonetheless, during the Commission’s visit, the government provided it with a “list of requests for death certificates” on which 32 cases presented regarding prison deaths appeared. In response to the Commission’s request about the results of these “requests and judgments,” the government furnished declaratory judgments of death by the civil courts of Port-au-Prince, but without indicating the cause of death.
On December 7, 1979, the government of Haiti stated that an absence of information on many of the names in government records suggests that “many names may have been fictitious.”
D. Summary Executions
8. In a note dated December 27, 1978, the Commission asked for information on the allegation that, in 1974 and 1976, Haitian citizens were summarily executed. Their names appear in the list of 151 individuals who are said have died in prison.
Summary executions take place in Fort Dimanche. The executions of 1974 and 1976 may be cited as examples. On August 7, 1974, a number of prisoners were executed at Fort Dimanche. They included:
Charles PIERRE Daule COMPERE
Samson JN. BAPTISTE Rikitt FLORESTAL
(nicknamed Don Fred)
Reynold TIMOLEON John SOUFFRANT
Alix THOMAS Ronale PERARD
René FRANEX Oveny PAUL
Seven persons were executed in March 1976. They included:
Clarel TERVIL Jn. Louis ROY
Marie Thérese FEVAL Ronal DUCHEMIN
Pierre Jean Jn. Rifla VASSEAU
The form of execution is barbarous. In recent years, they haven’t been wasting bullets on executing prisoners. They make prisoners walk forward one by one in the night towards the sea. And they club them on the back of the neck, like dogs. The soft thud of the clubs can be heard in the cells.
The government did not furnish any information on the matter until December 7, 1979, at which time it stated that “no executions were carried out at Fort Dimanche in 1974, 1975 or 1976, nor were any persons with names similar to those listed on page 25 executed by the government of Haiti at any time during the period in question.” The government also challenged the statement that “the thud of the blows can be heard in the cells” as a physical impossibility. However, the Commission has in its power an eyewitness declaration giving the following additional details:
Between Fort Dimanche Prison and the ocean, no more than a mile in distance, there is a wooded area in which, under cover of night, the executioners of Duvalier’s government carry out summary executions. Assisted by the calm of night, and doubtless carried by the ocean wind, the cries of the victims reach us clearly in our cells. The place of execution is about 50 meters from the prison, i.e. from the rear wall. It is this area that the prisoners call the “bayarons” or the secret graveyard of Duvalier.
E. Personal Security
Article 17 of the Constitution of Haiti expressly declares “that any unnecessary force or restraint used in the arrest or detention of a person, any moral pressure or physical brutality is forbidden.”
Moreover, in December 1972, President Jean Claude Duvalier sent a memorandum to all the commanders of the Military Department and Chiefs of Special Services, in which he stated:
I am certain, Mr. Minister of Justice, that you have grasped the full import of my thinking, and that you will never fail to act according to the law, so that justice may be rendered to whom justice is due.
I ask that as soon as you receive the present Message, you take all steps that may be required to eliminate any abuse of authority that could be committed in your Military Departments and in your various services.
I want the soldiers of the Young Army of the New Haiti to understand that they, like their commanders, cannot use violence with impunity or cause it to be used on any person without legitimate reason, in the exercise or during the course of the exercise of their duties.
I feel a sense of pride in seeing them refrain from any intrusion into homes and from any arrests motivated by personal interest.
I ask you to urge the soldiers in your Department and services to obey the law.
Thus they will help My Government ensure order, security, social peace and harmony, justice and the common good at all times.
A copy of this memorandum appears in the note dated January 8, 1975 received from the government of Haiti in response to a request for information.
9. Despite this provision in the Constitution, and despite the instructions of the President, the Commission has received complaints from a number of individuals released after the presidential amnesty.
One denunciation transmitted by the Inter-American Commission to the government of Haiti on September 11, 1978 reported as follows:
Political prisoners arrive at Fort-Dimanche only after a fairly long detention in the Dessalines Barracks. It is in fact to the barracks that the forces of repression take prisoners for interrogation in the first instance after their arrest. Once there, prisoners are always savagely tortured. After this stage, detention begins in Fort-Dimanche.
Fort-Dimanche is one element in the whole system of repression, and as a place of detention, it serves to depersonalize political prisoners, reduce them to the state of animals before their death. Political prisoners are conditioned on arrival at Fort-Dimanche. They are undressed and examined like beasts of burden, not for medical purposes, but in order to humiliate them. Face to the wall, head lowered, the prisoner is insulted by the jailer, who reduces him to the status of an object, a mere number. He is then taken under the wing of the major of his cell, that is to say, by the prisoner responsible for the cell. This cell-major is responsible for helping the jailer in the depersonalization process. He is generally a prisoner who, after a long period of detention, is completely under the jailer’s thumb, and shows himself willing to collaborate with him in this depersonalization exercise.
Still pursuing the goal of depersonalizing the prisoner, the jailer gives him psychological conditioning and often forces him to react to sounds and to gestures. No matter what he needs, and no matter what the reason, the prisoner does not have the right to speak to the jailer. This is a serious violation that is severely punished. Only the cell-major can serve as intermediary between the jailer and the prisoner, if he feels it necessary.
The cell, which generally measures 3 meters by 3 meters, has only one window of 1 meter by 70 centimeters, in which cement blocks are placed, with the result that very little light or air penetrates. The cell is intended for 22 or 33 prisoners. Each prisoner, therefore, has a space that is only 30 centimeters wide.
At night, the prisoners sleep in relays. The first group sleeps from 8:30 till 11:00 p.m., and the next group from 11:00 to 1:30 in the morning. Generally, newcomers sleep on the cement floor for the first three months of their detention. Then they receive a mat of woven straw, which is 1 millimeter thick and less than 1,1/2 meters long. In the hot season—which is almost nine months of the year—the prisoner is dying of heat, is bathed in sweat at night; during the three-month cold season, he is shivering day and night.
Piled up like sardines in this cell, which is never swept or disinfected, the prisoners are eaten up by vermin (body lice, head lice, bed bugs) and by mosquitoes that come up from the swamps surrounding the prison and carry malaria and other illnesses. The cell always stinks of the foul odor from the five-gallon recipient we use as a latrine. The bucket is never disinfected, it is covered with dried fecal matter, and one of us has to go out of the cell to empty it into a hole that has been dug for this purpose at the end of the prison. Some prisoners who, after a certain time in detention, have become physically weaker, unfortunately sometimes let the bucket drop in the corridor; they are therefore obliged to pick everything up with their hands, under penalty of very severe punishments. The prisoner does not get any toilet paper or soap. When what remains of his underwear gets too dirty, he has to wash it with urine because there is no water.
Nobody takes a bath at Fort-Dimanche. Nonetheless, we are awakened at 2:00 o’clock in the morning so that we can be taken to a standpipe where there is a trickle of water. The prisoner can either drink a little water, or wash out his mouth, because a cell of 22 to 33 people is given only five minutes for this operation. Anyone who breaks the regulations is badly beaten up.
The prisoner’s daily ration is a small loaf of bread weighing 20 grams, a little bit of corn mash sprinkled with a few macaroni, without spices, with no oil and sometimes almost raw. The food, of which there is very little, has no substance to it, which explains why the prisoners are hungry and why they have vitamin deficiencies. We are never given meat, vegetables, milk or fruit, we never have any of the foods the human body needs. In fact, we use the floor for a plate, because the jailer gives the plate with one hand and takes it away with the other. We are served on the same plates, which are not washed, despite the dangers of contamination.
Water is rationed. Each prisoner is entitled to only two glasses a day, and the prison has only 18 glasses for approximately 195 prisoners. We receive water in a big pail, which can be overturned by a mishap: then we simply lose the whole day’s ration.
Dr. Treván, who is responsible for medical care, visits the prison only two or three times a year. He does not even come to register a death. Medical care is more properly speaking under the responsibility of a nursing aide, and he makes only one visit a month. This means that people with tuberculosis or vitamin deficiencies or any other kind of illness may receive an aspirin before they die. The sick are given no care at Fort-Dimanche. “Medicine is far too expensive for scum like you,” said Enos St. Pierre, the hangman-jailer who was appointed directly by Duvalier. “We do not stop people from dying. If you are tired, stick your head in the latrine bucket, commit suicide, outside, they know that you are already dead.” Those are the kind of things the assistant jailer, Enos St. Pierre and Captain Jean-Joseph of the Presidential Guard, head of the prison, say to the prisoners. These two officers of the Haitian Army take pleasure, indeed show a sadistic zeal in making prisoners die little by little, and in humiliating them before their death. For example, Enos St. Pierre was unmoved, indeed was snickering at a dying man who was asking for a little water before he died. The prisoner must have died about half an hour after the torture.
Illnesses – Mortality Rate
Illness is frequent at Fort-Dimanche. The most common maladies are pulmonary tuberculosis, vitamin deficiency, dysentery, mental problems and diarrhea. The diseases characteristic of Fort-Dimanche are tuberculosis, diarrhea and edema caused by worms burrowing under the skin. To cure stomach problems, diarrhea or malaria, the prisoner uses urine to wash his head, or drinks a little urine. Is urine of any therapeutic value? I leave it up to medical scientists to answer that question, but a sick man uses it; whether it comforts or consoles him, I don’t know.
The amount of contagion is extremely high because of the severe overcrowding in the cells. All of this explains why the average survival time in Fort-Dimanche is for rarely more than one year. Sixty percent of the deaths are due to tuberculosis, and forty percent to vitamin deficiencies and diarrhea. The death rate at Fort-Dimanche is very high. These totally inhuman conditions of detention became considerably worse in 1976, at the very time when the Duvalier Government was talking about liberalization and improving prison conditions.
In fact, 96 deaths were registered at Fort-Dimanche in 1976, particularly during the months of October, November and December. This is a record for the number of crimes committed in one year at Fort-Dimanche. The preceding year, 1975, there were 55 deaths for an average of 170 prisoners. It could thus be said that in recent years, death was a constant presence at Fort-Dimanche. Prisoners always know when death has struck, that it is hovering in the cells, because each time someone dies, the prisoners strike up a chorus of “It is only ‘au revoir’,” and then “Nearer my God to thee.” Sometimes the body stays in the cell for some hours after the death, until the jail officer deigns to authorize its removal. Sometimes, the prisoners are obliged to eat their meager meals over the corpse of a prison companion who has just died. The dead man is rolled up in the thin straw mat that had been his bed, and is carried by the prisoners out to the brush-covered piece of land where common-law prisoners bury him under a thin layer of earth. It has sometimes happened that dogs eat the corpse.”
This account concurs with what other former prisoners have said.
The government informed the Commission that “it has always given medical and other care to prisoners, within its means.”
The government has stressed in various occasions, including during the visit of the Special Commission that Fort-Dimanche was closed in 1977 by order of President Jean-Claude Duvalier. However, the Commission has received repeated denunciations to the effect that not all of Fort-Dimanche was closed, but rather only the area of collective cells, called “Nirvana.” The Commission has even received testimony that certain construction has taken place at Fort-Dimanche, which has increased the number of solitary cells, among other changes.
10. During its mission to Haiti, the Special Commission visited the National Penitentiary and talked to a large number of prisoners. None complained of physical ill treatment, but certain prisoners said that they did not have the legal defense they needed, because of the fact that there were not sufficient legal aid attorneys.
The Commission has received testimony, both written and oral, which states that conditions in the Haitian prisons, particularly those in Port-au-Prince, have worsened since the visit of the Special Commission. One Haitian, who was in prison at the time, has provided the Commission with details of conditions just before, during and after the visit:
Some time in August, things began to improve and we could hear on the guards’ radios that a team from the OAS Commission on Human Rights was going to visit the prison. One week before the visit, they began to prepare. A large number of prisoners left. They were transferred elsewhere or set free. After the Commission left, an old prisoner of the Penitentiary came back and told me that he and many others were transferred to Fort-Dimanche or to Croix-des-Bouquets. Conditions of the few prisoners who were not transferred also changed greatly. For example, they reduced the number of persons per cell to two or three. The cells were re-painted. There were beds. We were well clothed and given tennis shoes. The food ration was increased and improved. Some days before the visit, Col. Louis Charles, together with Major Orcel of the Detective Service, came to each cell and told us that the Commission would ask us certain questions, and they gave us the answers to make. The Commission came to the prison one day around 11:00 a.m. All the prisoners were taken to the central courtyard, where there were several members of the Commission, Colonel Louis Charles and the Government Commissioner, Rodrigue Casimir. The latter were present throughout the questioning of all the prisoners by members of the Commission. When my turn came, I answered as I had been told to do. At 6:00 p.m., everything given out for the occasion, except the clothing, was taken away. Soon after the Commission’s departure, many prisoners were returned to the Penitentiary.
11. In a decree of September 29, 1977, the Haitian government decided to grant “full and complete amnesty… to all citizens accused of terrorism or of any other subversive act perpetrated against the security of the State.”
During its time in Haiti, the Special Commission visited the following penitentiaries: the National Penitentiary, and the Cap-Haitien and Jacmel Barracks, but found no political prisoners.
1 American Convention on Human Rights
Article 4. Right to Life
1. Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
2. In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, it may be imposed only for the most serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court and in accordance with a law establishing such punishment, enacted prior to the commission of the crime. The application of such punishment shall not be extended to crimes to which it does not presently apply.
3. The death penalty shall not be reestablished in states that have abolished it.
4. In no case shall capital punishment be inflicted for political offenses or related common crimes.
5. Capital punishment shall not be imposed upon persons who, at the time the crime was committed, were under 18 years of age or over 70 years of age; nor shall it be applied to pregnant women.
6. Every person condemned to death shall have the right to apply for amnesty, pardon, or commutation of sentence, which may be granted in all cases. Capital punishment shall not be imposed while such a petition is pending decision by the competent authority.