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In Haiti, gunshot victims are ending up in prison


In the event of a gunshot wound, many residents of working-class neighborhoods say they are reluctant to go to hospital

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A young man claims to have been wounded on July 27, 2023 with a friend’s firearm on 5th Avenue Bolosse in Martissant.

When he arrived at La Paix hospital for treatment, he recounts being questioned by medical staff about the circumstances surrounding his injury prior to admission.

The man, who was afraid of being arrested, called a policeman friend for help. On arriving at the scene, the officer told the doctors that the young man had been shot because bandits had fired at a bus he was riding in in Martissant.

« As soon as we receive a gunshot wound, the principle is to inform the police, » Dr. Paul Junior Fontilus, General Manager of Hôpital la Paix, tells AyiboPost.

Several other healthcare institutions are implementing a similar policy.

As soon as we receive a gunshot wound, we inform the police.

Cooperation between hospitals and law enforcement agencies helps to keep bandits or former prisoners on the run out at bay, say police officers. It also helps protect medical staff in a context of direct attacks on hospitals by gangs.

On the night of July 6 to 7, 2023, for example, some twenty armed men broke into the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Traumatology Hospital in Tabarre to remove a patient with gunshot wounds while he was still in the operating room, according to a note from the organization.

However, police-hospital cooperation also has its consequences.

Many residents from working-class neighborhoods say they are reluctant to go to the hospital in the event of a gunshot wound. The young man mentioned at the beginning of this report says he did not want to go to hospital for fear of being arrested. He requests anonymity for security reasons.

Cooperation between hospitals and law enforcement agencies can keep bandits and ex-prisoners on the run at bay.

In extreme cases, an individual with a bullet wound may be imprisoned, without any evidence establishing his guilt in any specific wrongdoing.

« That’s what happened to me, » Patrice Sully, a young tiler from Cité Soleil, tells AyiboPost.

On November 13, 2013, Sully was attending a party in Cité Soleil when he was hit in the thigh by a projectile. After arriving at a hospital in the capital, he was arrested by the police, and almost ten years later is still languishing in the national penitentiary, awaiting the outcome of a trial.

See also : Les hôpitaux doivent-ils signaler les cas suspects à la police ?

« Prison is very violent, » Sully tells AyiboPost as he grips a gate at the National Penitentiary. « Inmates are injured on a regular basis, » he continues. « Sometimes I see prisoners in my cell being released even though I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’m still here. »

The penitentiary is gaining a reputation as a center where inmates’ human rights are regularly violated. « Sometimes they don’t even let me out of the cell, » testifies Sully. « I stay inside to cry and torment myself. It’s really an injustice, » concludes the father of a little girl who will turn 12 this year.

The issuance of an order declaring Sully’s detention illegal on September 3, 2021 did not result in the release of the professional, who is currently being assisted free of charge by the Bureau Human Rights in Haïti (BDHH).

The penitentiary has taken on the reputation of a center where inmates’ human rights are regularly violated.

« They say freedom has no price tag; I think it does, » says Sully, dressed in a white dress shirt. « Why am I still in prison, he wonders? Because I don’t have a gourd to my name. And that’s how I know freedom has a price ».

Some hospital structures, such as MSF, are putting rules in place to prevent abuses. In August 2012, the structure signed a protocol to this effect with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MJSP). According to this document, a copy of which was forwarded to AyiboPost, law enforcement officers must have a valid legal warrant or be accompanied by a magistrate to gain access to MSF facilities.

Interviewed by AyiboPost, Dr. Benoît Chabaud, coordinator of the Turgeau Emergency Center Project for MSF, says the hospital works in « neutrality and impartiality ».

The Turgeau Center receives an average of 30,000 patients a year, including the seriously ill and injured.

« When a patient comes to us, we don’t ask about their marital status or whether they come from an armed group or the police: we’re more interested in their medical problem, » explains Dr Chabaud.

However, according to the manager, it sometimes happens that police officers on the front line know that there’s a patient in the center they want to apprehend. « They don’t always respect the rules, » reveals Dr. Chabaud.

In extreme cases, an individual with a bullet wound may be imprisoned, without any evidence establishing his guilt in any specific wrongdoing.

The State University of Haiti Hospital (HUEH), the country’s largest hospital, goes even further. Police officers are constantly on hand at HUEH to check on cases of gunshot wounds and also to monitor hospitalized prisoners.

« Someone who isn’t upstanding can’t come get care here, » the head of the HUEH police station tells AyiboPost during a visit on August 28, 2023.

« When a gunshot victim arrives at the hospital, we collect a range of information about the person and also the circumstances surrounding their injury, » continues the officer, who requests anonymity for security reasons.

This information is quickly transferred to the Port-au-Prince police station for processing.

« If the person is on the police wanted list, they remain under police surveillance while the doctors treat them, » concludes the officer.

Video | This segment from a report made by AyiboPost in early 2023 shows the room of chained prisoner patients at UEH, under PNH surveillance:

In a context of regular attacks on medical staff, juggling the right to care with the safety of operations and the public seems to be a difficult equation to solve in hospitals. What should be given priority, and how can this be achieved ?

By Fenel Pélissier

Widlore Mérancourt took part in this report.

English translation by Sarah Jean.

Cover image: « A gunshot wound victim receives care from the MSF team in the emergency room of the Tabarre trauma hospital. Port-au-Prince, Haiti, December 2019. » | © Nicolas Guyonnet/MSF

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Fenel Pélissier est avocat au Barreau de Petit-Goâve, professeur de langues vivantes et passionné de littérature.