Verdict Reached in Haiti Prison Trial

Two years after the quake, Haiti proved it could handle a high-profile trial — but the verdict won't put an immediate end to police brutality probes.

Posted: 01/19/2012 03:08 PM EST

Seven Haitian police officers were convicted Thursday for charges stemming from a 2010 post-earthquake prison riot where at least 10 prisoners were shot to death.

A total of 13 officers stood trial for the shootings and faced charges of murder, attempted murder and other crimes. Twenty-one additional officers are believed to have been involved but have since fled Haiti and will be tried in absentia.

The incident took place one week after the quake, when the country was still dazed by destruction and loss. The implicated officers allegedly opened fire on inmates during a prison riot in Les Cayes.

The officers were sentenced to a range of punishments, from two years in prison to 13 years of hard labor. According to attorneys for the officers, because of the nature of the riot, it was unclear whether all of the fatal shots were actually fired by the police.

"The decision of the judge is his expression of the truth," Judge Ezekiel Vaval said in the packed courtroom, according to the Associated Press. "There are other versions that exist but this is mine. And that is the law."

Although the trial’s rather smooth completion is being seen as a victory for the country whose system is still struggling to regain its footing following the quake, police misconduct continues to be a hot-button issue the country has been forced to contend with lately.

Last month, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released reports alleging that the Haitian national police force used illegal excessive force against prisoners — actions which may have led to the deaths of at least nine people in the capital, Port-Au-Prince.

“The success of post-earthquake reconstruction, and even the willingness of the international community to contribute financially, will be affected by trends in security and law enforcement,” read one of the reports. “The [national police force] is an essential institution for Haiti’s security and stability.”

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