Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 27th 2016 Contents A28
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LEVEQUE---The three friends had spent the day
stocking up on food in the Haitian capital when
they left for their village, setting off on the 20-
mile trip home by foot because the minibuses
known as tap-taps weren t running after a bridge
Their bodies were found the next morning in a
ditch along the way. They had been beaten, stabbed
and burned, and relatives who identified them in a
morgue said their tongues were cut out.
The women s family and friends suspect they were
targeted because they were deaf in a country where
experts say a pervasive stigma isolates people with
disabilities such as deafness and can spark super-
stitions leading to horrific cruelty. Disabled women
and girls are particularly vulnerable.
Due to cultural prejudices and the weakness of
the justice system, past crimes against disabled cit-
izens have been largely ignored. But the slayings of
Jesula Gelin, Vanessa Previl and Monique Vincent
have galvanised Haitians with disabilities and prompt-
ed rare public protests by their advocacy groups.
Outrage is particularly acute in the village of Lev-
eque, where the women lived in a community of
168 homes established by US religious organisations
for deaf people displaced by the 2010 earthquake.
Gelin s husband, Micheler Castor, now struggles
there to raise their six children alone.
Advocates for the disabled in Haiti say they hope
what happened can chip away at the obstacles to
justice and social inclusion faced by these most vul-
nerable citizens of the hemisphere s poorest nation.
Around the globe, treatment of the disabled varies
widely from country to country, but discrimination
and barriers to inclusion are commonplace. Those
problems are most severe in the developing world,
where the World Health Organization says 80 per
cent of disabled people live.
"This case is very important. The disabled have
made advances in Haiti, but there s still far, far too
much stigma and impunity," Michel Pean, a blind
activist who was Haiti s first secretary of state for
the integration of disabled people.
With pressure from that government agency, police
have arrested three members of a family suspected
of murdering the deaf women. Investigators say two
women and a man are in custody, while the two
men who are the main suspects are still being sought.
The three women often prayed together, sold rice
and popcorn in their community and regularly went
to Port-au-Prince to buy supplies. Gelin and her
two unmarried neighbours, both in their 20s, might
have stayed overnight in the capital if they had
known the bridge was out. But as darkness fell, they
tried walking home instead.
One suspect told investigators that the deaf women
were killed by her husband because the family feared
that they were werewolf-type creatures called "louga-
wou," their disabilities the product of a hex.
Nicole Phillips, a human rights lawyer representing
the victims families, said the trio only felt safe
approaching the house in Cabaret that night because
one of the deaf women was apparently a distant
relation of a person who lived there.
There s another suspected superstitious motive.
Some soothsayers claim they can mystically increase
chances at winning bets at ubiquitous Haitian lotteries
if they are brought body parts like tongues from
"I believe they picked them to cut their tongues
to play the lottery," Castor signed in his tiny home,
shaking his head beneath a poster of the Ten Com-
mandments and holding a well-worn family photo
showing his wife.
Whatever the motive, the killings have left many
shocked and shamed in Haiti, where advocates esti-
mate that roughly 10 per cent of the population, or
about one million people, have some disability.
Three deaf women slain in Haiti
The 2010 earthquake increased awareness and
empathy for amputees as it greatly expanded the
disabled ranks with those who lost limbs. There has
been some progress making more public buildings
accessible to disabled people and strengthening
But some Haitians believe other disabilities are
contagious or caused by a hex. Those who are deaf,
blind, or developmentally or mentally disabled are
still marginalised and face neglect and abuse. They
are routinely called cocobe---a Haitian Creole insult
that implies they are worthless.
Haiti has legal protections for the disabled on
paper, but the laws are poorly implemented.
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This April 17
who is deaf,
holding a picture
of him with his
wife Jesula Gelin,
who's also deaf,
wife was beaten,
burned to death
along with two of
her deaf friends
as they walked
home from the
capital to their
village. AP PHOTO
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