Haiti police jailed for Les Cayes prison killings

Masked Haitian policeman with rifle in Port-au-Prince, 24 December 2011 Haiti's police force is rarely held to account

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Seven Haitian police officers have been jailed for their part in the killing of at least 10 prisoners in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

The officers were found guilty of offences including murder and attempted murder for firing on inmates during a prison riot in the city of Les Cayes.

They were given sentences ranging from two to seven years with hard labour.

An eighth officer was found guilty in absentia. Another six were cleared of involvement.

Human rights activists have welcomed the outcome as a rare victory in the fight against impunity.

Correspondents say the trial itself was an unusual event in Haiti, where the justice system is limited and public officials accused of abuses are rarely held to account.

"The decision of the judge is his version of the truth," Judge Ezekiel Vaval said as he read out the sentences in a makeshift courtroom in Les Cayes.

"There are other versions that exist but this is mine, and that is the law."

Cover-up

Before the verdict Judge Vaval told journalists he had received death threats during the three-month trial.

Lawyers for the police officers argued that they had faced a difficult situation in trying to suppress a riot in the chaotic aftermath of the earthquake, and said the killings were committed by an inmate who escaped.

The case was brought to trial after an investigation by an independent commission formed by the Haitian government and the UN Mission in Haiti.

It was set up after a report by the New York Times newspaper alleged that police officers had shot unarmed prisoners after they had surrendered and then tried to cover up the massacre.

The longest sentence - 13 years hard labour - was given in absentia to the head of the local riot police.

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