Logo: Michelle Karshan and staff and participants of Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ in Haiti
March 8, 2007 -- On this international day honoring women and reflecting on their conditions and rights, it is important to note the treatment of women who are deported to Haiti from the United States after having served their sentences for crimes they committed there.
Women who have been convicted of crimes in the United States have already served their sentences for violating any of the various laws in the U.S. ranging from child neglect to drug possession or worse. These women are wives, mothers, sisters, etc. and some left Haiti more than twenty years ago and have no remaining close relatives there.
Once deported back to Haiti as Criminal Deportees they are taken into custody by the Haitian government. Although they have not violated any laws in Haiti, the women are immediately put in illegal and indefinite detention, without any due process, in Haiti’s police station holding cells. The police station holding cells are approximately 10 x 10 feet and usually hold at least a dozen to two dozen other prisoners at the same time, do not contain beds, mats, sinks, or toilets. And, most striking, is that they are not provided any food, clean water, or medical care.
If they have no family to help them, they go hungry or depend on fellow prisoners to share food and water with them. Further, when criminal deportees who are sick are deported from the United States, they are provided with two weeks worth of medication. After two weeks they are left with no medication, which could be detrimental to their health and they could die as a result.
In January 2007, I was contacted by the United Nations Human Rights Office in Haiti requesting that my program, Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ, visit two deported women who were being held in a police holding cell at the DCPJ police administration building. The United Nations advised us that the two women were each complaining that they had heart conditions, were without medication and had no access to doctors or any health care personnel whatsoever. We attempted to visit these two women but were denied access by the Haitian police.
In 2000, one such woman, Claudette Etienne, a mother of two small children, was deported from Florida, and died after four days in detention at the Delmas 62 police sub-station. Claudette had no family in Haiti and had only received scraps of food from one concerned police officer. However, Claudette was not provided with any clean water or meals, and, when she got dysentery and quickly dehydrated, the police refused to transport her for emergency medical care or even to seek medical attention for her at the police station. When Claudette was finally transported to the General Hospital, she died a short time thereafter.
Women criminal deportees are also placed in holding cells together with men and are subjected to sexual harassment and assault by other prisoners, or the police themselves. Police officers manning these police stations often abandon their posts at night leaving the prisoners locked in with no assistance in the event that there is an emergency or an assault by another prisoner.
The prisons and police stations have become increasingly more dangerous over the past few years. On July 1st, 2005, an armed commando attacked the Petionville prison that houses both men and women and severely beat female prisoners there. One woman was so badly beaten that at first it was thought that she was dead. Armed commando attacks on prisons and police stations, violence and uprisings, and a recent escape at a police station resulting in injuries, have become regular occurrences putting women prisoners at greater risk.
Therefore, any discussion of women’s rights and conditions should also include the plight of women criminal deportees from the United States.
The task of addressing security concerns while also respecting women’s rights can be a difficult one, but must be taken on.
And, it would behoove the United States to take on this task as well and reconsider the deportation of thousands of women who are forced to leave their children behind, sometimes in the hands of strangers -- placing their children at great risk.
* Michelle Karshan is the founder and Executive Director of Alternative Chance/Chans Altenativ, a self-help, peer counseling and advocacy program for Criminal Deportees in Haiti which was founded in 1996. Ms. Karshan can be reached at AlternativeChance@gmail.com
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