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
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.”
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.”
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
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.
In a letter dated January 20, 1972, the Commission was informed
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
of dead prisoners
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.
ALEXANDRE cell 3, known as Djo Malanca, Port-au-Prince, died on November 1,
1975, of physical weakness and mental illness.
AUGUSTIN cell 1, St. Marc, 53 years
old, sociologist, imprisoned 3 times, died on September 19 at 4:00 p.m.
ANDRE cell 7, Jérémie, professor,
died in 1975 of diarrhea.
ALEXANDRE cell 7, Jérémie, professor, died in 1975 of diarrhea.
ABELARD cell 6, died in September 1976 of tuberculosis.
ANIBOT cell 8, died in August 1976
of tuberculosis and malnutrition, a peasant from l’Arcahaie.
ACHADE cell 7, Arcahaie, died in
BRIOLLI cell 4, Port-au-Prince, a
former macoute, died in 1976 of diarrhea and tuberculosis
BELLEVUE cell 1, Plaine du Cul de Sac, professor of history, died in August
1975 of tuberculosis.
BISRETE cell 2, Fond des Blancs,
speculator, died in February 1976 of rheumatism and tuberculosis.
BIEN-AIME cell 3, Cayes, worked in
the Chamber of Deputies, died in July 1976 of malnutrition.
BAPTISTE cell 7, Jacmel, lived in
the Dominican Republic, worked in Africa on filming The Comedians,
died on July 19, 1974 of tuberculosis.
BAPTISTE cell 1, Jacmel, died on
June 16, 1974 of tuberculosis and mental illness.
BERTRAND cell 5, Port-au-Prince, a
former macoute chief, died on August 26, 1975 of tuberculosis and
BERTRAND cell 2, Port-au-Prince, a
former macoute chief, died in February 1976 of rheumatism and
BLANC cell 4, husband
of the deputy Madame Paul Blanc, died in July 1976 of diarrhea.
BLAIN cell 3, Port-au-Prince,
ex-colonel, died on February 1, 1976 of tuberculosis.
BAUDET cell 3, Port-au-Prince,
coastguard, died in July 1975 of tuberculosis
BURON cell, sailor, died in
1976 of tuberculosis.
BOUCICAUT cell 4, Port-au-Prince, former macoute, died in January 19, of
BATISTAIN cell 3, tin-smith, died
in February 1973 of typhoid.
BANO cell 1, Arcahaie, died
in 1975 of diarrhea.
BAFARD cell 4, Thiotte region, died
in January 1973.
CESAR cell 8, died in 1972 of
COMPERE* executed on August 7,
CAJUSTE cell 8, former corporal in the Police Department, died in 1976 of
CHERY cell 2, Cayes, an old
man in his sixties, died on December 10, 1976 of physical weakness.
CADOSTIN cell 2, chauffeur, died on October 2, 1976, of tuberculosis.
CEBASTIEN cell 1, Port-au-Prince, pharmacist, owner of the Pharmacie de Lion,
died in 1976 of lung congestion.
Roland CELESTIN cell 1, Port-au-Prince, topographer, died in 1975 of typhoid and
DONNEUR cell 7, Port-au-Prince,
artisan, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
DESRAVINES cell 7, Port-au-Prince, artisan, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
DE RUISSEAU cell 3, Arcahaie, student, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
DARELUS cell 1, Pétion-Ville,
carpenter, died in February 1975.
DUPONT National Penitentiary, Méyotte,
Pétion-Ville, workman, died in 1975 of liver disease.
DUCHEMIN* executed in March 1976.
DACCUEIL cell 3, Arcahaie, peasant,
48 years old, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
DACCUEIL cell 7, Arcahaie, peasant,
brother of Guelo, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
DUGASON cell 5, Jérémie,
mechanic, died on June 2, 1975 of tuberculosis.
DORNEVAL cell 5, Arcahaie, died on January 24, 1976 of hypertension.
DELVA cell 1, Gonaives, died in
June 1976 of tuberculosis.
DUVAL cell 9, worked at Alpha, died on December 5, 1975 of tuberculosis and
DUQUESNE died in August 1976.
DOMINIQUE cell 6, Plaine du Cul de Sac, chauffeur, died in July 1976 of
Jean DERISIE cell 1, Nan Bannanan, section chief, died in July 1976 of
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
DUCALIRON National Penitentiary, died in 1973.
DONATIEN cell 1, Artibonite,
arrested in February 1975, 25 years old, died in March 1976 of diarrhea.
cell 1, section chief of Thiotte, died in 1976.
DELILLE died in 1975.
EXANTUS cell 7, Cul de Sac, attorney, professor, released in 1972, arrested
again in January 1973, died in July 1976 of tuberculosis.
EXANTUS cell 8, Arcahaie, student,
died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
ESTIME cell 1, deputy, Duvalier
supporter from the first, died on May 13, 1976 of diarrhea and
ESTIME cell 5, died in 1976.
EUGENE cell 1, Plaine du Cul de
Sac, teacher, released in 1972, arrested again in 1973, died in 1976 of
cell 2, Arcahaie, died in 1976.
FILS-AIME cell 1, Fort-Liberté, former léopard, died in 1976 of
REQUIERE cell 2, Port-au-Prince
(Delmas), workman, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
FRANEX* executed on August 7, 1974.
FEVAL* executed on August 7, 1974.
FLORESTAL* executed on August 7, 1974.
GUERRIER cell 5, Plaine du Cul de
Sac, died on October 6, 1975 of tuberculosis
Thérese GASNER cell 10, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
GUERRIER died in 1976.
HORNER Duvalierville, coastguard,
died in 1975.
ICARD cell 2,
Miragoane, died on November 13, 1975 of mental illness.
JOSEPH cell 7, known as Ibert Jn.
Baptiste, Gonaives, arrested on July 3, 1973, Place Ste. Anne, died in
1975 of tuberculosis.
JEAN cell 2, Hinche, former léopard,
died in April 1976 of pleurisy.
JEAN died in April 1976 in the
JUNIOR died in August 1975 in the
JEAN* known as D’Haiti, executed
in March 1976.
JEAN BAPTISTE cell 1, Jacmel, died on December 4, 1976 of diarrhea.
JEAN-BAPTISTE* executed on August 7, 1974.
JEAN-BAPTISTE CELL 3, Jérémie, typographer, worked in the State Printing Office,
died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
JULES cell 3, Jérémie, died
on October 10, 1976 of typhoid.
JOLIMO cell 3, Plaine du Cul de
Sac, peasant, died in 1975 of pleurisy.
JOSEPH cell 6, attorney, and old
man of 60 years of age, died in 1976 of physical weakness.
JEAN cell 3, Marchand, peasant,
died in 1977 of tuberculosis.
JASSIN cell 7, Port-au-Prince
(Section Sou Dalle), teacher, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
JOSEPH cell 6, Arcahaie, hougan
(voodoo priest), died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
JEAN PIERRE cell 5, Plaine du Cul de Sac, peasant, died on March 10 of infectious
diarrhea and pulmonary tuberculosis.
JEAN NOEL cell 3, Quanaminthe, died on February 1974 of malaria and physical
JEAN BAPTISTE cell 1, Pétion-Ville, died in February 1975, constipated for 22
JEAN POIS cell 1, Croix des Bouquets, shopkeeper, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
JEAN cell 4,
Port-au-Prince, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
JULES Verrettes, Assistant
Government Commissioner, died in 1976.
LOUISSAINT cell 8, Arcahaie, student, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
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.
LAURENT cell 8, Port-au-Prince,
tailor, arrested after the Gaillard affair, died in 1975 of
LEGROS cell 6, Port-au-Prince, died
on December 19, 1975 at 5:00 a.m. of diarrhea and tuberculosis.
LIVERT cell 5, Port-à-Piment,
student, died on July 19, 1976 of tuberculosis.
LAFORTUNE cell 5, Plaine du Cul de Sac, peasant, died on November 18, 1975 of
MUZAC cell 1, Jacmel,
student, died in June 1976 of tuberculosis.
MICHEL died in 1975.
cell 7, known as Guantanamo, Port-au-Prince, sailor, died in 1976
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.
Louis MAX cell 2, Plaine du Cul de Sac, peasant, died in October 1975 of
NOEL cell 6,
Quanaminthe, died in 1976 of a liver ailment.
NAPOLEON Croix des Bouquets, died
in December 1972.
Marc NERESTAN cell 3, Port-à-Piment, tailor, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
OSIAS cell 2, Cap-Haitien,
attorney, died in June 1975.
OBANO cell 8, Arcahaie, died in
July 1976 of diarrhea.
OCTA Arcahaie, died in 1975 of
PIERRE-PAUL cell 3, St. Marc, lawyer, professor, died on September 17 of
cell 3, Barradère, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
PIERRE* executed on August 7, 1974.
PHILIPPE cell 3, Limbé, died in
November 1973 of tuberculosis.
PAUL* executed on August 7, 1974.
PIERRE-PAUL cell 2, Port-au-Prince,
accountant working with an English insurance company, died in July 1976,
suffering from mental illness.
PAUL cell 8, Port-au-Prince, son of
Paulette Sicot, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
PIERRE-LOUIS cell 5, Arcahaie, died on November 1, 1975 of physical weakness.
PIERRE arrested in 1974, died in
PRICE died in March
PREDESTANT* executed in August
PHANOR cell 2, former léopard, died on May 3, 1976.
PERARD* executed in August 1974.
RAYMOND cell 1, known as Ti Baron, Plaine du Cul de Sac, professor, died in
1975 of tuberculosis.
ROY* executed in March 1976.
ROBERT cell 6, alias Derecul,
Arcahaie, coastguard, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
ROSSINI cell 6, mason, Arcahaie
(Carrefour Pois), died in 1975 of diarrhea.
cell 4, former detective, militia-man, died in 1976 of
cell 7, died in 1975 of tuberculosis.
REBECCA cell 3, Cavaillon, former
militia-man, died on October 10, 1972 of tuberculosis.
companion of Dagobert Jean (former léopard), died in
SYLVESTRE cell…, shoemaker, Port-au-Prince, died on November 1, 1976 of
SALADIN cell 1, La Tremblay, peasant, died on December 31, 1976.
SAINT-LOUIS died on September 11, 1976 of tuberculosis.
SOUFFRANT* executed on August 7,
ST. MERZIER cell 4, Jérémie, scrap merchant, died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
cell 7, Port-au-Prince, died on November 13, 1975 of
ST. VIL cell 5, Fort-Liberté,
former léopard, died in September 1976 of tuberculosis.
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.
cell 7, Arcahaie, former sergeant, died in October 1976 of
TIMOLEON* executed on August 7, 1974.
THOMAS* executed on August 7, 1974.
TERVIL* executed in March 1976.
cell 9, Limbé, died in 1971 of tuberculosis.
TONY La Tremblay (Croix des
Bouquets) arrested in 1969, released in 1972, re-arrested in February
1973, died in 1976 of diarrhea.
THENOR cell 1, died in December
THEAGENE died in 1975.
Rifla VASSEAU* executed in March 1976.
VILFORT cell 3, Kenscoff, tinsmith,
died in 1976 of tuberculosis.
VICTOME cell 5, Cazale, died on January 2, 1975 of tuberculosis.
Michel VITAL cell 6, Jérémie, released then re-arrested, died in February 1977
VOLCY cell 6, died in July 1976.
WASHINGTON cell 5, coastguard, died on October 19, 1974, of rheumatism.
WELLINGTON cell …, son of Jamaica, well-known in Port-au-Prince, died in
October 1976 of tuberculosis and physical weakness.
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
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
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.”
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:
Samson JN. BAPTISTE
(nicknamed Don Fred)
Reynold TIMOLEON John SOUFFRANT
Seven persons were executed in March 1976. They included:
Marie Thérese FEVAL Ronal
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
– 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.