By Harold Isaac and Brian Ellsworth
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – At least 12 prisoners in Haiti died for lack of food or medicine in the month ending in mid-September, a Haitian official said on Thursday, adding the figure had likely risen since then due to a gang blockade that has created crippling fuel shortages.
Renan Hedouville, head of Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection, said prisoners are dying of starvation or in some cases of preventable diseases such as tuberculosis due to the worsening condition of jails.
“Prisoners, people in detention, people deprived of their freedom, are exposed to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments,” Hedouville, whose role is similar to that of an ombudsman, said in a telephone interview.
“When someone is jailed, the security of the person in the prison depends on the Haitian state.”
The United Nations Security Council in a June report said that 54 prison deaths linked to malnutrition were reported between January and April, and that most prison deaths resulted from a lack of food.
Hedouville’s office and local human rights groups have not been able to determine whether more people have died in the last two weeks because the gang blockade has made it impossible to move around the country, he said.
It has also made it more complicated to feed prisoners, because family members – who typically provide food for those in jail – cannot reach the facilities.
Hedouville said families of the deceased should organize to sue the state for negligence.
Haitian gangs now control vast parts of the country’s territory and at times wage bloody turf wars that leave hundreds dead and force thousands to flee their homes.
U.S. lawmakers on Thursday said the United States should consider sanctioning gang leaders and those who finance them.
(Reporting by Harold Isaac in Port-au-Pricen and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas)