Haiti: improving conditions of detention

11-01-2012 Operational Update

Two years after an earthquake devastated Haiti on 12 January 2010, reconstruction is finally making progress there. The ICRC is working with the authorities to improve the living conditions of detainees and to rebuild a large limb-fitting and rehabilitation centre. ICRC activities in Haiti from September to December 2011.

Between September and December 2011, the ICRC carried out 24 visits to 14 prisons and police stations to ensure that detainees were being treated humanely and with dignity, in accordance with international rules and standards.

When the new government came to power, a constructive dialogue was initiated with the national and international authorities on detention-related issues, including the problem of prison overcrowding. The ICRC continues to promote application of legal guarantees and provides the authorities with lists of detainees in prolonged pre-trial detention or who may be eligible, on humanitarian grounds, for a presidential pardon.

Prison health and the fight against cholera

The ICRC contributes to detainee health care in the country's nine largest places of detention. In the civilian prison of Port-au-Prince, delegates are once again working closely with other organizations to coordinate treatment for HIV-positive detainees and those suffering from AIDS or tuberculosis.

The ICRC has continued to support health-care facilities in prisons, especially in prisons affected by cholera, along with emergency centres and hospitals that treat detainees. Over the course of 2011, the mortality rate associated with cholera in Haitian prisons fell from 14.2% (in 2010) to 2.6%, thanks to a significant improvement in the treatment of cholera patients.

Between September and December, the ICRC helped treat 34 detainees suffering from cholera and today continues to provide hygiene items and disinfectants to prevent further outbreaks. For example, the cholera-treatment centre in the civilian prison of Port-au-Prince has received 9,600 doses of oral rehydration salts and over 1,800 litres of intravenous solution.

In the same period, an ICRC team composed of medical personnel and water-and-habitat specialists carried out 12 visits to nine places of detention to promote cholera-prevention measures among detainees and penitentiary authorities alike. The team remains ready to respond immediately to any new cholera outbreak in detention facilities.

Volunteers of the Haitian National Red Cross Society working in Cité Soleil and Martissant, two of the poorest neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, are receiving support from the ICRC to enable them to assist cholera patients. Between September and December, they transported more than 400 patients to treatment facilities. In the same period they applied some 2,300 dressings for victims of accidents and violence.

Water and hygiene in prisons

The ICRC is working with Haiti's prison service to improve existing facilities. On 11 occasions in 2011, emergency action was taken to empty septic tanks in seven places of detention holding over 4,000 detainees. In so doing, the ICRC reduced the risk of the disease spreading both within the prisons and beyond, to the general population.

Repairs to the drinking-water system at the civilian prison in Port-au-Prince have been completed, improving access to drinking water for over 2,700 detainees. Meanwhile, in the civilian prison in Cap-Haïtien, more than 680 detainees now have better access to water thanks to ICRC help in reconnecting the prison to the municipal water-supply system.

The construction of five latrines in the exercise yard at the civilian prison in Hinche has improved toilet access for 150 detainees, while the installation of bunk beds in the Cayes civilian prison have given 300 detainees a place to sleep. Finally, more than 140 detainees now enjoy better access to fresh air thanks to ICRC work carried out in the exercise yards at the police stations in Miragoâne and Aquin.

Physical rehabilitation centre rebuilt

In December 2011, after a year of hard work, the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled – in conjunction with the Red Cross Societies of the United States, Australia and Norway – finished the large-scale task of reconstructing one of Haiti's main physical rehabilitation centres.

With the structure complete, workers can now set about installing electricity and plumbing, applying final floor- and wall-coverings, and then fitting out the interior.

This reconstruction project will enable some 1,000 people – largely victims of the 2010 earthquake – to receive limb-fitting services and physiotherapy. The centre, run by Healing Hands for Haiti International, will reopen in March 2012.

Improved water system in Cité Soleil

Thanks to numerous ICRC projects, the 200,000 residents of Cité Soleil and surrounding areas now have guaranteed access to drinking water for 17 to 20 hours a day. After the organization approached the technical directorate of Haiti's water-hygiene authority, a major leak in the system was repaired. As a result, the 20,000 residents of two neighbourhoods in Cité Soleil regained the relatively easy access to water that they had lacked for over two years.

Finally, six standpipes were renovated in two other neighbourhoods in the city.

Promoting humanitarian principles

The ICRC and the Haitian Red Cross have stepped up efforts to encourage the authorities to ratify a national law on the Red Cross emblem. A dialogue has also been initiated with a view to incorporating humanitarian law treaties into national legislation.

The ICRC has maintained its dialogue with the Haiti national police force in the framework of its detention-related activities and efforts to raise awareness about rules governing the use of force. The ICRC has also offered its expertise to the authorities as they rebuild the national army, in order to incorporate respect for international humanitarian law into army training and practice.

From September to December 2011, the ICRC informed some 120 officers from the United Nations' "formed police units" in Haiti about its activities in the country and promoted humanitarian principles. Two information sessions were held for 30 officers responsible for the civil-military action of the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti.

Finally, a session was held in October to introduce the ICRC and promote humanitarian principles to some 50 members of an armed gang from Martissant.

Cooperation with the Haitian Red Cross

The ICRC is taking part in different working groups to support institutional development in the Haitian Red Cross, including a group dealing with the development of local branches. Particularly important was the organization's participation in two workshops in 2011 with the chairmen of the regional committees. These were aimed at developing action plans and budgets.

Two sessions were organized by the ICRC and the disaster-management unit of the Haitian Red Cross on the theme of safe access for the National Society's emergency-response teams. Thanks to financial assistance from the ICRC, 170 volunteers benefited from basic training and refresher courses in first aid.

Finally, to support the National Society's efforts to strengthen its presence in Cité Soleil and Martissant, the ICRC provided technical and financial assistance to volunteers from those areas, so that they might organize local awareness-raising activities on themes such as cholera and the hurricane season.


National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince 

National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince
© ICRC / ht-e-00638

Cité Soleil residents fetch water at a fountain restored by the ICRC. 

Cité Soleil residents fetch water at a fountain restored by the ICRC.
© ICRC / J. J. Charles / ht-e-00670

Main structure of Haiti's physical rehabilitation centre in Port-au-Prince,currently being rebuilt. 

Main structure of Haiti's physical rehabilitation centre in Port-au-Prince,currently being rebuilt.

Haitian Red Cross volunteers raise awareness about cholera and hurricanes using song and theatre.  

Haitian Red Cross volunteers raise awareness about cholera and hurricanes using song and theatre.
© ICRC / J. J. Charles / haiti-ht-e-00668

Briefing of the Indian and Jordanian contingents of the Formed Police Units of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) 

Briefing of the Indian and Jordanian contingents of the Formed Police Units of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)
© ICRC / A. Pierre / ht-e-00669