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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Haitian President Calls for Calm, Asks Justice Department, Police to Shed Light on Student’s Killing

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WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haitian President Jovenel Moise is calling on the country’s justice and police departments to bring to light the circumstances surrounding the death earlier this month of a university student, allegedly at the hands of police.

Moise also appealed to student protesters to remain calm as the nation awaits the findings of investigators in the case of 29-year-old Gregory Saint-Hilaire.

“All those involved must do their jobs – which means the justice department, including the police, DCPG (the director general of the national police force) – everyone in general. We must find the truth surrounding the death of the student,” Moise said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.

University students in the capital, Port-au-Prince, organized five days of protests last week, at times becoming violent, to demand justice and revenge in the death of Saint-Hilaire.

He was killed on university grounds while demanding the teaching job he was promised after graduating. The national ministry of education signed an agreement with the Ecole Normale Superieure (the state university Saint-Hilaire attended) offering internships and teaching jobs to graduates. That didn’t happen, angering students, who accused officials of playing politics.

“We are out in the streets to ask for our right to life to be respected. This is a fight against impunity, this is a fight against injustice,” a student protester told VOA Creole, adding that the government does not seem prepared to respond to their calls for justice.

Student Jean Ronald Olicier, an eyewitness who was with Saint-Hilaire at the time of his death, told VOA Creole the student was shot in the back by the USGPN [Unite de Securite Generale du Palais National] – the specialized police unit that protects the president and is under his command. Olicier said police fired tear gas at them, then live rounds as they were attempting to leave the university complex where they had been discussing job placement with university officials.

Saint-Hilaire lay bleeding inside the university complex for three hours, Olicier said, before students were able to get him to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Saint-Hilaire, described by fellow students as an honest man who was fighting for a just cause, lived in the Village de Dieu (Village of God) slum of the Haitian capital, notorious for gang violence. He graduated in 2018 from the Ecole Normale Superieure, which is is near the national palace. He majored in social sciences and then went on to study law at the school.

In his videotaped message, Moise offered condolences to Saint-Hilaire’s family, friends and fellow students, saying he remembered what it was like to be a university student. “I hope the circumstances of his death will be brought to light so we may all know what happened,” he said. “All those who were involved in the murder of the student should pay.”

The president said he wants students to know he has heard their cries and understands their frustration but called on them to remain calm.

“Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to embrace the calm because I have to tell you – [repeating] the same actions will produce the same results,” he said.

Haiti’s national police force has been dogged for years by accusations of corruption and human rights violations. The national police (PNH) inspector general has vowed to investigate the crime and bring those responsible for the student’s death to justice. But many Haitians express a lack of confidence that the investigation will lead to an arrest.

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