The UN security forces in Haiti have “categorically” any involvement by any of their soldiers in the death of a man during the funeral last week for Father Gérard Jean-Juste. The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which retrieved the body from the gates of the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, also announced that the death, which had initially been attributed to a gunshot wound, was due to a “head injury inflicted by a stone or a blunt object.”
The incident took place just after the coffin of Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest/activist well-known for his efforts on behalf of Haitian immigrants in Miami, had left the city’s cathedral on its way to the presidential palace. Most of those following the coffin were members of the Aristide Party, Fanmi Lavalas, of which Jean-Juste had been a fierce supporter.
“It seems that one person was killed close to the cathedral. The first reports we have show that the soldiers fired in the air,” said Sophie Boutaud de la Combe, spokeswoman for the UN forces in Haiti at the time. “The blue helmets were apparently attacked by stone-throwing demonstrators from different parts of the town center,” she added.
The UN mission issued a later statement saying “the MINUSTAH categorically denies the allegations that some of its members shot the (victim).” If its soldiers, the mission added, had fired warning shots “into the air to disperse the crowd, this action seems to have had no connection with the death.” The commander of MINUSTAH, Brazilian General Floriano Peixoto, said before the preliminary investigation that he did not think his soldiers fired any deadly bullet. “The truth is I do not believe… that the soldiers fired on the people with live ammunition,” he told AFP soon after the incident. All the soldiers involved said that they did not fire on the people,” he said.
Haitian police are carrying out the official investigation into the incident, while the MINUSTAH carried out an internal investigation. The unrest came a day after a UN vehicle was set on fire here by demonstrators demanding that the UN forces leave Haiti, accusing them of using tear gas to end protests. Aristide followers oppose the UN mission, which has been in Haiti for five years.