Amnesty calls for release of political prisoners in Haiti

After two years of near anarchy, the Caribbean republic of Haiti is beginning to take shape as a proper democracy. But human rights group Amnesty International warns that, even under the country’s newly reinstated democratic government, thousands of people are still being detained without charge, including political prisoners.

Presidential and parliamentary elections held earlier this year ended a turbulent period since the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The elections passed smoothly, albeit with a low turnout and having been earlier postponed four times due to security concerns and logistical difficulties.

Haiti now has a president, a prime minister and a full parliament for the first time in years.

President René Préval has since used his time in office attempting to heal bitter political divisions in a country that until recently was plagued by summary executions, arbitrary arrest, mob violence and torture.

Préval has also paid visits to regional powers such as Brazil, Cuba, the US and Venezuela, which have boosted his credibility in the Americas and at home. Even analysts used to Haiti’s history of dictatorship and political infighting have become cautiously optimistic.

But Amnesty claims that the slate is not spotless. The human rights non-governmental organisation claims that there are presently more than 2,000 people still held in detention in Haiti without charge or awaiting trial, and that of these around 100 are political prisoners.

Included in this group are prominent supporters of ousted President Aristide – Yvon Antoine, Annette Auguste, George Honor and Paul Raymond.

Amnesty says the four were arrested between March 2004 and July 2005 under what it describes as the “vague” offence of ‘association de malfaiteurs’ (criminal conspiracy). The arrests were in connection with an attack by pro-Aristide supporters against students during a demonstration against the former president on 5 December 2005.

An Amnesty spokesperson says Auguste has been detained for more than 26 months and adds that even the public prosecutor has recommended dropping the charges against her because of a lack of evidence.

“The prolonged detention of supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide under the transitional government of Gérard Latortue was politically motivated and in breach of Haitian law and international human rights standards,” said the spokesperson. “A fair and functioning judicial system is essential for Haiti’s future.”