“Enough, we cannot deal with this anymore,” a visibly disgusted Predica Jean, coordinator for the League of Haitian Women for Reconstruction(Lig Fanm Ayisyen pou Rekonstruksyon) (LIFAR) said during a press conference in Port-au-Prince.
“We’re asking all the political actors who are involved to resolve the situation quickly so we can have a country where we can live (in peace and security), where women’s rights are respected,” she added.
Jean decried the gang rape of a dozen female prisoners by male prisoners attempting to escape from a jail in the northern city of Gonaives last week. She asked for justice and reparations for all the women who were violated.
About 340 male prisoners, angry about the jail's poor living conditions, broke out Nov. 7-8. They had been reportedly held for days in overcrowded cells without food and water. They managed to disarm a guard and break through the gates. Once out, they sought female prisoners in a separate part of the jail, according to witnesses, and raped them repeatedly until a police unit arrived and fired tear gas to stop the attack.
Jean also demanded the immediate release of a female prisoner who remained jailed even though she was set to be released before the attacks.
“They claimed they couldn’t find her release form and held her in jail where she was subjected to rape,” Jean told reporters.
The LIFAR coordinator cited the Geneva Conventions and other international law statutes that demand prisoners of war, as well as civilian prisoners, be treated humanely. “These laws are being violated in our country,” Jean said.
A human rights activist who spoke to VOA Creole said police officers who arrived at the jail during the incident told him they were shaken by what they heard.
“Some of the officers said they were heartbroken and crying when they heard the screams of the women during the criminal actions of the men,” the activist said.
After the incident, the nongovernmental organization Zanmi Lasante (Friends for Health) stepped in to address the rape victims’ immediate health needs, including testing for sexually transmitted diseases. They were also provided medication to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Jeanne Bolivar, the Haitian Ministry for Women’s Affairs coordinator for the Artibonite Department, visited the female prisoners and told VOA Creole they were visibly distraught. She said she is working to find a psychologist who can counsel the victims. She also denounced the authorities of Gonaives who transferred the women after the attack to a jail in neighboring St. Marc in their underwear.
“The women’s rights were not respected, their dignity was not respected at all,” Bolivar said. She told VOA Creole she spoke to a young woman who told her she was raped by seven men.
Bolivar said she is working to find food for the transferred prisoners as well.
Women’s rights activist Guerline Residor called on law enforcement officials to act responsibly.
“We are asking the Ministry of Justice, the chief of police, police officers, etc., to intervene rapidly to resolve the dangerous situation women in the north find themselves in,” she said.