Sunday, May 21, 2006

Francoise: Inhumane Prison In Haiti Not Enough For CAT Relief

Francois v. Gonzales
No. 04-4523
May 19, 2006

The Third Circuit disappointingly refused to grant CAT relief (under the Convention Against Torture) for someone who would suffer inhumane, abysmal conditions in a jail in Haiti if deported to Haiti.

Let's summarize the factual situation as viewed by the Third Circuit: in Haiti, many people deported from the United States are held in abysmal prisons without being told how long they will have to stay there (sometimes 6-10 months). The conditions are atrocious and on top of that, prison officials grossly mistreat the detainees in Haiti. The conditions are "inhumane and deplorable."

Let's look at some earlier decisions by the Third Circuit: in Auguste v. Ridge, 395 F.3d 123 (3d Cir. 2005), the Third Circuit held that someone who only claims that he will be subjected to harsh prison conditions in Haiti if deported cannot qualify for CAT relief. But the immigrant's lawyer (Regis Fernandez) pointed out that in Zubeda v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 463 (3d Cir. 2003), the only intent needed to prove CAT relief is to show that the severe pain or suffering that is not the unintended consequence of an intentional act. Based on that definition, shouldn't the intentionally abysmal, atrocious, inhumane, and deplorable conditions trigger CAT relief?

The Third Circuit turned the definition by adding a new element -- "here must be some sort of underlying intentional direction of pain and suffering against a particular petitioner, more so than simply complaining of the general state of affairs that constitute conditions of confinement in a place."

On a personal note, having seen pictures and heard first-hand reports of the horrible prison conditions in Haiti, I disagree with the Third Circuit's factual finding that the level of suffering in Haitian prisons does not constitute torture. Their attempt to hide behind requiring intention direction of pain against a particular petitioner might be a smoke screen based on a fear by courts of shaping relief that would qualify too many people. I wonder whether if the abysmal prison conditions affected only a small number of people, CAT relief would be easier to win. But where abysmal conditions affect a large number of people, the need for protection under international law is even greater, not smaller.

I look forward to seeing whether Regis will appeal this case further. Options include asking for review by the United States Supreme Court or turning to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Maybe a Hollywood film on Haitian prisons would make the difference?


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