Press releasesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Haitian authorities must investigate allegations of police torture and killings – UN reports
Haiti / police violence
27 December 2011
27 December 2011
GENEVA/PORT-AU-PRINCE – The UN’s human rights presence in Haiti on Tuesday urged Haitian authorities to properly investigate and prosecute police officers suspected of unlawful killings and torture, after two UN reports raised concerns that the illegal use of force by officers in the Haitian National Police (HNP) may have led to the deaths of nine people in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area between October 2010 and June this year.
The reports released by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)/the Human Rights Section of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (HRS-MINUSTAH) detail investigations into six incidents in which approximately 20 members of the HNP were implicated in the deaths of nine Haitians. The Human Rights Section regularly receives allegations of illegal killings involving the national police and investigates cases considered emblematic.
In all the incidents investigated, there is reason for concern that the deaths may have been the result of illegal use of force by the police. In some instances, there are indications of extra-judicial or summary and arbitrary executions. In one case, a 44 year-old man, Serge Démosthène, was reportedly beaten to death by police personnel, at times in the presence of senior police and judicial officials and while inside one of Haiti’s most prominent police stations during daytime.
“Many police officers operate in what are sometimes very dangerous conditions,” the report notes. “However, the security of Haitian citizens and effective law enforcement depend substantially on the Haitian National Police.”
“It is urgent that the Government take action to prevent killings, including extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, by representatives of the Haitian National Police and ensure rapid and effective investigations where deaths do occur, with a view to punishing those police officers responsible or clearing their responsibility where the circumstances and legal justifications for lethal force exist. Such action is essential not only to ensure protection of the rights to life and physical integrity of Haitian citizens, but also to reinforce public confidence and trust in an essential institution, such as the Haitian National Police.”
The reports also describe actions taken by the State to respond to violations. Positively, in most cases the Haitian National Police internal affairs unit initiated investigations and a judicial official assessed the scene of the incident. In some cases, accused police personnel were suspended and detained, and criminal justice investigations were launched. However, the UN Human Rights office regrets the lack of any criminal convictions in any of the incidents. In several cases, the suspended police personnel resumed their functions even before the end of investigations into their conduct.
“Autopsies and ballistic analyses are not systematically conducted in investigations,” the report noted further. “Witnesses are often afraid of the consequences of giving testimony and convinced that justice will not be rendered.”
The report also noted that the head and deputy head of the police internal affairs unit had been removed from their functions.
In both reports, the UN Human Rights office and MINUSTAH have called on the Government to ensure thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into all cases of suspected illegal use of force by the police, and for the officers responsible to be brought to justice.
The United Nations remains committed to keep providing technical and logistical support, including human rights training and vetting of police personnel, to strengthen the capacity of the Haitian National Police.