State Department Suggests Decision on Release of Baptist Group in Haiti May Be Imminent

At a State Department briefing tonight, Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs reported that the United States is awaiting a decision by a Haitian court on whether 10 Americans being held in Haiti on kidnapping charges will be returned to the United States.

The decision may come as early as tonight or tomorrow morning, February 12, 2010.

The Americans, members of Baptist congregations in Idaho and other states, attempted to take 33 children from Haiti to the Dominican Republic without any documentation, on the pretext that the children were orphans.  It later became clear many had living parents and/or other relatives in Haiti, and that some had been taken from their parents by the Baptist group on the assurance they were being offered an education and could "come back to visit."

They were arrested and charged in Haiti and their case is now under review by Haitian courts.

"We have not yet received confirmation through our Embassy in Port-au-Prince regarding the release of Americans from Haiti," Crowley stated at the briefing.

Obviously, if that turns out to be the case, if that’s the judgment of the Haitian court, we will provide whatever support the American citizens need to be able to depart Haiti and return to the United States. But at this point, we have not received any formal confirmation that in fact, they have been released.

Crowley underscored that the State Department has "no information from the Haitian Government [on whether the Americans will be released to return to the United States.]  That will be an important question as to what is the judgment of the court and then what are the future legal implications, if any, for our American citizens. So other than standing by and waiting to – waiting for the judgment of the court, I have no other information I can pass on.

Asked whether he could provide an idea of what conversations had been had between the Haitian authorities and the State Department, Crowley replied:

I think we’ve been very careful not to intervene specifically in this case. This is a matter for Haitian authorities to resolve. There are – they have obviously proffered two charges against the American citizens and our role has been simply to monitor the ongoing proceeding, make sure that our citizens were being given their appropriate rights under Haitian law. And I think we’ve been satisfied that – with the overall conduct of this case. So it is – it’s for the Haitian Government to – and the Haitian court to look at the facts in this case and then render its judgment.

And when asked if it was likely the group would face charges in the United States, Crowley replied:

Again, I think we have to let the court reach its judgment. There are a variety of options available to the Haitian Government in terms of the disposition of this case. The United States and Haiti, they – we do have an extradition treaty. But let – the first step in this process is for the Haitian court to make a judgment based on its evaluation of the facts, and then from that, if there’s any action for the United States, then we’ll evaluate that once we see what Haiti has done.

"[T]his is a court of law," said Crowley, "and we are obviously strong believers in an independent judiciary. That’s why we’ve been very respectful through this process of the Haitian Government and the Haitian judiciary.

"Our American citizens do stand charged with potential violations of Haitian law, and it’s – and we think this is an important element of the Haitian Government continuing to exercise its sovereignty over its country, and we think that’s very important."

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