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Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution and the law prohibit torture and other forms of physical abuse. Senior police officials took this prohibition seriously and regularly investigated reports of torture and abuse; however, some security forces personnel, primarily mid-level and lower-ranking police officers, continued to torture, beat, and otherwise physically abuse detainees and prisoners.
Lack of supervision, training, and accountability throughout the law enforcement and corrections systems exacerbated the problem of physical abuse. Human rights groups reported repeated instances of physical abuse of detainees, including various forms of torture, beatings, and sexual abuse. More than 20 young men suffered severe knee injuries or amputations due to police violence. The Dominican Human Rights Committee received multiple complaints of torture from detainees at the Department of Theft at police headquarters in Santo Domingo, as well as from prisons in Mao, Barahona, Azua, and Santiago.
According to human rights organizations, both the National Police and prison officials used forms of torture. The method most often used was beating. Other forms included asphyxiation with plastic bags to elicit confessions and a method called "roasting the chicken" in which the victim was placed over hot coals and turned. Human rights advocates described another form of abuse called "the toaster," in which guards laid shackled prisoners on a bed of hot asphalt for an entire day and beat them with a club if they screamed. Human rights advocates described a police practice called "golpe de pollo" in which police beat a person's ears until they bled. Another torture method was that of enclosing detainees in water cisterns for lengthy periods.
In January, a police officer from Bani was videotaped as he removed a prisoner from a holding cell, took him to the patio area of the police station, then hit the prisoner on the face, head, and buttocks in front of an audience of local residents. The authorities arrested the police officer and sent the case to a police tribunal in Santo Domingo. The tribunal dismissed all charges, and the officer remained on the force.
In June, the sister and female friend of a man accused of hotel robbery reported that police Lieutenant Valenzuela tortured and beat their accused relative in custody (see Section 1.d.).
According to the National Commission on Human Rights, military and police officials were reported to beat, torture, and randomly deport Haitians living in the border towns of Pedernales and Elias Pina (see Section 2.d.).
Police Colonel Francisco Beras Santos, accused in 2002 of torture and sexual violation of a woman in his police station, was free on bail. His court hearing was rescheduled several times and remained pending at year's end.
The National District Prosecutor's office had a program of placing lawyers in high-volume police stations and in several DNCD offices to monitor the investigative process and to ensure that detainees' rights were respected (see Section 1.d.). This program remained geographically limited, principally to the Santo Domingo metropolitan area, with a lesser presence in Santiago. There was some evidence that assistant prosecutors at times acquiesced in traditional police practices rather than attempt to raise these practices to constitutional standards. In some instances, authorities interpreted the presence of prosecutors as meaning that detainees could be held more than 48 hours after being transferred from "police" custody to "prosecutorial" custody (see Section 1.d.).
The law provides penalties for torture and physical abuse, including sentences from 10 to 15 years in prison. Civilian prosecutors sometimes filed charges against police and military officials alleging torture, physical abuse, and related crimes. New abuse and torture cases were remanded to civilian criminal courts as they arose. However, submission to civilian judicial authority was sometimes still contested by mid-level officers (see Section 1.e.).
During the year, the authorities dismissed numerous government employees for links with groups engaged in smuggling (see Section 6.f.). In April, the Court of Instruction determined that Congressman Guillermo Radhames Ramos Garcia (formerly a consul in Cap Haitien) should stand trial on charges of alien smuggling. In June, Garcia lost an appeal to throw out the charges. Garcia evaded arrest for months until Congress reconvened August 16 and remained free, citing parliamentary immunity. On October 22, the Supreme Court began trial proceedings and referred the case to criminal court on October 30, where a further hearing was held on December 3. When a translator for two non-Spanish speaking defendants did not appear, the court postponed the trial until January 2004.
Human rights courses were offered in the training curriculums for military and DNCD enlisted personnel and officers. The Military Institute of Human Rights offered diploma courses in human rights and regularly sent representatives to border units to conduct mandatory human rights training. More than 3,000 members of the military received training during the year. In August, the Institute published a book about human rights and the role of the military, written by its Assistant Academic Director. However, monitoring and sanctioning systems for abuses of human rights remained ineffective.
Prison conditions ranged from poor to harsh. Reports of torture and mistreatment in prisons were common. The prisons were seriously overcrowded, health and sanitary conditions were poor, and some prisons were out of control of the authorities. The General Directorate of Prisons was under the authority of the Public Ministry and was seriously under-funded. Budget allocations for necessities such as food, medicine, and transportation were insufficient. Prisoners and human rights groups alleged that prisoners were not taken to their trials unless they paid bribes to the guards (see Sections 1.d. and 1.e.). Prisons employed few physicians and had few medical supplies. Prisoners immobilized by AIDS or terminally ill were not transferred to hospitals, but some terminal-stage inmates were released to spend their last days at home.
According to the Attorney General's office, the police and the military held more than 14,500 prisoners and detainees in 34 prisons with a total intended capacity of approximately 9,000 persons. The military operated 21 prisons with a total of 5,084 prisoners, and the National Police operated 13 prisons, with a total of 9,557 inmates. A warden was responsible for running each prison and reported to the Attorney General through the General Directorate of Prisons. A police or military colonel (or lieutenant colonel), generally appointed for a period of only 3 to 6 months, was responsible for providing security and notionally reported to the warden. In practice, the colonel was in charge of the prison, and neither the Directorate of Prisons nor the individual wardens had much power. Some prisons were totally out of the authorities' control and were in effect operated by armed inmates. Individual inmates could secure a tolerable level of existence only by paying for food, sleeping space, and medical care.
Virtually all prisons experienced extreme overcrowding. At La Victoria prison, the largest in the country, up to 150 inmates were placed in cells designed to hold 24. Prisoners complained of having to sleep in bathrooms due to lack of space. The media reported a riot at a prison in Moca, provoked by the death of a neglected inmate, by lack of medical care, and by overcrowding. During the year, other prisoners died due to negligence. The press and human rights groups also reported extensive drug and arms trafficking within the prisons, as well as prostitution and sexual abuse, including abuse of minors. The DNCD reported finding significant amounts of crack cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and weapons in a cell at Rafey prison in Santiago.
Inmates said that the food provided was unacceptable, and most sought to beg or purchase food from persons in the vicinity of the prison or to obtain it from family members. Visitors often had to bribe prison guards in order to visit prisoners. Female visitors often were forced to strip naked prior to entering the prison and were harassed sexually by prison guards.
Pretrial detainees were held together with convicted prisoners. Inmates were not separated by crime within the prison population; however, they could be put into solitary confinement for disturbances while incarcerated.
Female inmates were separated from male inmates. In general, conditions in the female prison wings were better than those in male prison wings. There were some reports of guards abusing female inmates physically and sexually. There were also reports that in the Najayo prison, guards forced women into prostitution in exchange for food and protection. Female inmates, unlike their male counterparts, were prohibited from receiving conjugal visits. Those who gave birth while incarcerated were permitted to keep their babies with them for 1 year.
The law requires that juveniles be detained separately from adults; however, juveniles often were mixed with the general population. The authorities sometimes treated minors as adults and incarcerated them in prison rather than juvenile detention centers. The press reported a high incidence of juveniles detained with adult prisoners being forced into sexual servitude in return for protection.
The Government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers and by the press.
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