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Haiti officials charge 10 Americans with kidnapping children

[JURIST] Haitian authorities charged ten US citizens Thursday with kidnapping 33 children. The Americans, many of whom were from the Idaho-based New Life Children's Refuge [BBC profile], were arrested [JURIST report] last week for attempting to take the children across the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic where the group claimed it hoped to start an orphanage. Haitian authorities claim, however, that many of the children were not orphans, but given up by their parents to the missionaries who promised a better life for the children. Group-leader Laura Silsby denied [Idaho Statesman report] Haitian authorities' claims that the group intended to put some of the children up for adoption. The ten were each charged with one count of kidnapping [AP report] and one count of criminal association. Lawyer Edwin Coq, who is representing the group, said that prison conditions were sub-standard and that his clients were not receiving adequate food and water. If convicted, the missionaries face up to 24 years in prison.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said that strengthening human rights [JURIST report] is an integral part of the rebuilding process in Haiti. In her remarks, Pillay mentioned the role that the inhumane living conditions may have had in the high casualty numbers resulting from the January 12 earthquake [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive], placing blame on the regime of Francois Duvalier [BBC profile] for those conditions. Last month, US President Barack Obama signed a bill [JURIST report] that will allow US citizens to claim donations to Haitian relief efforts as a deduction on their 2009 tax returns. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano [official profile] announced that Haitian nationals present in the US before the earthquake will be given temporary protected status and will not be deported for the next 18 months, but Haitian refugees who arrive in the US illegally will be sent back to their home country [JURIST reports]. The US has also granted humanitarian parole to Haitian orphans [JURIST report] to allow them to enter the US for medical treatment. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has been estimated at 150,000.

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