A spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti [official website] announced Saturday that the mission has launched an investigation into the shootings of dozens of prisoners in a jail riot following the January 12 earthquake [JURIST news archive] which killed over 200,000 people and left some 1 million homeless. An earlier investigation [NYT report] by the New York Times [media website] alleged that Haitian police officials opened fire on unarmed prisoners during the riot and sought to cover it up by claiming that prison ring-leader, Ti Mousson, murdered any inmates who refused to cooperate in his escape plan. According to the Times report, police officials raided the jail during the riot shouting for prisoners to lie down, but instead of securing the area began shooting the inmates, including those that had surrendered. One witness claims that some prisoners were killed systematically to "settle scores." Following the shooting, police authorities failed to notify inmates’ relatives of the deaths, buried bodies without conducting autopsies and burned the surviving prisoners’ bloodstained clothing. Prison authorities deny the allegations and claim that no shots were fired by police officers.
In February the acting head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti [official website] urged Haitians to turn in prisoners who escaped [JURIST reports] when the earthquake destroyed prisons and jails. The aftermath of the earthquake also placed a strain on detainees arrested since the disaster, as limited space and limited access to judges burdened the country's already tenuous criminal justice system.