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Murder suspects in Haiti in limbo, family members left in the dark


Two weeks after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, dozens of men arrested by local police remain in detention without formal charge and with limited access to lawyers.

The legal vacuum, made more uncertain by a “state of siege” invoked after the July 7 murder, has left human rights groups concerned about the lack of due process for detainees and relatives of the men. from Haiti, Colombia. , and the United States, desperate for details.

In Colombia, the men’s families, who make up the bulk of the 26 suspects detained, have banded together to raise funds for lawyers.

A Colombian “honorary consul” in Haiti has been appointed in recent weeks, but senior officials in Bogota have delayed a visit to the country at the government’s request.

And the only information gleaned so far from the family of Christian Emmanuel Sanon, the Haitian-American doctor who police say orchestrated the assassination, is that the 63-year-old is still in good health after US State Department officials visited him earlier. this month.

“Looks like he hasn’t been beaten or anything, looks like he’s healthy, but they only saw him once,” said Steven Bross, a friend of Sanon who spoke with his family in Florida.

Due process rights for prisoners have long been weak in Haiti, where years of autocratic leadership have eroded the more familiar power controls in developed countries.

As authorities urgently seek an explanation for this shocking and embarrassing assassination, the capacity of the Haitian police has increased further.

The vague provisions of the emergency ordinance, which is due to expire this week, “appear to justify anything being done in connection with the investigation,” said Brian Concannon, a member of the Institute’s board of directors for justice and democracy in Haiti.

None of the men made a public appearance before a judge.

It was also not clear that any of them received legal advice. Under Haitian law, prisoners can receive a court-appointed lawyer, although they are usually not available until late in a case, Concannon said.

When asked repeatedly whether suspects had access to legal representation, Haiti National Police spokeswoman Marie Michele Vernier only said the men were in contact with their respective embassies.

Abuse behind bars is common in Haiti – even under normal circumstances – although no allegations of physical abuse of the men have been published to date.

“Torture during interrogation is routine in day-to-day affairs, so I would expect there to be an extremely high probability of it in this case, where the police are under a lot of pressure,” Concannon said.

Twenty-six men have been arrested since the assassination, Vernier told CNN on Wednesday, including 18 Colombians, five Haitians and three US citizens.

Their alleged roles vary, but most are not considered high-level plot architects. A number of Haitian police officers were also detained as part of a separate administrative investigation, according to Haitian authorities.

Haitian police said Sanon, who had mounted a foray into politics in recent months, hired Colombians and other men as “mercenaries” in a bid to seize power in the country.

The Colombians were said to have operated in two groups: a larger group who believed they had been hired as a private security guard for Sanon, and a smaller group who knew of a “criminal” objective and knew that the larger operation was a cover-up operation, Colombian President Ivan Duque said last week.

The two other Americans of Haitian origin in detention were said to have been hired as translators.

Citing privacy concerns, a US State Department official declined to confirm any consular visits with detained US citizens, but said the agency generally works to provide assistance to Americans detained abroad .

In Florida, Sanon’s family believe he’s made a scapegoat, according to family friend Bross.

The doctor had recently announced his intention to run for the Haitian presidency in a future government and had hired Colombians and other men from a Florida company as security in Haiti, according to a company that organized funding for the effort.

Sanon’s family believe the need for security was legitimate, Bross said. Sanon had publicly criticized the president of the now assassinated country and he believed he would not be safe in the country, where political violence is rampant, Bross said.

Sanon denied any knowledge of the operation to investigators and insisted he was innocent, CNN reported.

Colombian consular officials are expected to visit Port-au-Prince on Sunday after the Haitian government asked them to postpone their visit until the funeral of the assassinated president, which will take place on Friday.

Officials will meet with detainees and help them find local legal representation, the country’s foreign minister said.

Several relatives of Colombians who spoke to CNN said they were still unaware of the men’s condition.

“We are desperate. Every day for me is hell, ”said the wife of one of the men detained by text message.

The woman, who requested anonymity because the case is sensitive, has asked the Red Cross to visit her husband, according to a letter she shared with CNN.

“Our family is unaware of his physical, psychological and legal state. We are suffering and need some type of phone or virtual communication with the help of the Red Cross as her young children and family are emotionally affected by this sad situation, ”the woman wrote.

Earlier Wednesday, the men’s families met with an official at the Foreign Ministry’s office but left without further details on the status of their relatives.

“At the moment, we know absolutely nothing about their condition and treatment. We are still in the same suffering, ”said Milena Africano, whose husband is among the detainees, after the meeting.

The official told the families that they could donate packages to the consular mission for delivery to the men.

On the list of items allowed to be sent: two white shirts, a pair of sandals, and a small supply of toiletries.

CNN’s Natalie Gallon reported from Port-au-Prince, Stefano Pozzebon from Bogota and David Shortell from Miami.

Reporting provided by Caitlin Hu, Matt Rivers and Etant Dupain of CNN in Port-au-Prince.


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