[News] Haitian Government Mounts Illegal Arrests

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 17 18:51:11 EST 2004

Haitian Government Mounts Illegal Arrests of Priest and Dissidents

By Brian Concannon Jr. | November 17, 2004

On Wednesday and Friday afternoons, hundreds of poor children find their 
only meal of the day at Haiti’s Sainte Claire’s Catholic Church. On 
Wednesday October 13, they were joined by masked and heavily armed police 
who handcuffed their pastor, Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, and dragged him out 
through a window and off to a police station. The police did not show the 
warrant required by Haiti’s constitution, nor was Fr. Jean-Juste brought 
before a judge within 48 hours as the law requires.

A Priest’s Battle Against Injustice

Jean-Juste, known in the United States as “Father Gerry,” has spent a 
quarter-century preaching non-violence and fighting against illegal arrests 
and other injustice in Haiti and the United States. He was ordained in the 
U.S., but felt compelled to return to Haiti to face the injustice of 
“Baby-Doc” Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime. He was soon forced out of Haiti, 
but he fought back in the courts. Jean-Juste won a lawsuit against Duvalier 
in Miami Federal Court. He also co-founded Florida’s Haitian Refugee 
Center, which helped thousands of refugees and challenged unjust 
immigration policies all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jean-Juste returned to Haiti having learned lessons from the United States 
about non-violent political organizing and fighting injustice through the 
courts. During Haiti’s nine years of elected government (1994-2004), he 
worked with victims of past dictatorships to channel their anger into 
lawsuits. From the pulpit and from the microphone of his popular radio 
show, he spoke out forcefully and eloquently against all kinds of violence, 
whether perpetrated by the constitutional government’s opponents or by its 
supporters. In one particularly memorable moment, when opposition political 
party offices were attacked after Jean Dominique’s April 2000 funeral Fr. 
Gerry talked on the radio for two hours straight, imploring everyone to go 
home, calm down, and learn to fight without violence.

Jean-Juste continued to stand up for justice after the unconstitutional 
interim regime replaced Haiti's elected government last February. Although 
friends and relatives told him to go into hiding, he refused to leave his 
parish work. Nor did he let fear prevent him from denouncing human rights 
violations in the Haitian and international press. He was the only summoned 
witness who dared appear in the August 16 trial for the killing of 
pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery. Everyone knew the trial was a 
fraud--Amnesty International called it “an insult to justice”--and Fr. 
Gerry knew he risked arrest at the courthouse. But he could not ignore a 
judicial order, so he showed up at trial.

Haiti’s Minister of Justice, Bernard Gousse, alleges that Fr. Jean-Juste 
associates with people engaged in violence. Prime Minister Gérard Latortue 
claims there was a warrant. Both have made these statements in press 
interviews, not legal proceedings. If the government really believes Fr. 
Jean-Juste is arming the hungry as well as feeding them, they should be 
willing to test that belief in court.

Clamping Down on the Opposition

The police register lists Jean-Juste’s crime as “disturbing the peace,” 
which carries a maximum sentence of four days in prison and a 17 gourdes 
fine (about 50 cents). But if past is prologue, Jean-Juste will have a long 
wait for his day in court. He joins a long line of political prisoners 
arrested since March, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Senator 
Yvon Feuillé (who is entitled to parliamentary immunity), former Deputy 
Rudy Hérivaux, a teacher, two musicians, nine union leaders, and a host of 
former officials.

All have been accused of a connection to violence in press conferences, but 
only one has been permitted to challenge his detention in court. When that 
one, local official Jacques Mathelier, went to court on July 12, the judge 
ordered his immediate liberation. Prison officials then gave him an 
immediate transfer out of that judge’s jurisdiction and he remains in jail.

The prominent political prisoners may be the lucky ones. Since it took 
power following the ouster of Haiti ’s elected government on February 29, 
the interim government and its paramilitary allies have systematically 
attacked Haiti ’s democracy movement, especially President Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide’s Lavalas party. Over 700 political prisoners too poor to be 
noticed by the outside world rot anonymously behind bars, according to the 
Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission. Well over 1,000 more 
democracy supporters have been killed.

The interim government’s violence has increased over the past few months. 
On September 7, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed its 
concern “over several key areas in which the basic rights and freedoms of 
Haitians remain weak and imperiled.” On September 16, Interim Prime 
Minister Gerard Latortue lashed out at his critics during an interview on 
Radio Caraibes, complaining that human rights criticism was making his 
relations with donor countries difficult. Later that day police officers 
raided the offices of the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH) labor 
union and arrested nine union members, all without a warrant. The official 
justification for the arrest was that the defendants were “close to the 
Lavalas authorities.” All were still in custody as of November 8.

On September 30, police interrupted a legal demonstration commemorating the 
anniversary of Haiti’s September 30, 1991coup d’etat. Human rights 
observers accompanying the demonstration reported that police fired on the 
march, after trying to disperse it. On the morning of October 1, interim 
Prime Minister Latortue conceded in a radio interview that the police had 
shot at protesters and individuals had been killed. He asserted that the 
authorities would continue to take forceful action against protests.

On October 2, the police raided a radio station and arrested two Senators 
and a former Deputy from the Lavalas party who had criticized the interim 
government during a radio debate, as well as a lawyer who came to represent 
them. Those arrests were also made without a warrant and “justified” 
outside of the judicial process with vague statements about connections to 
violence. The lawyer and one of the Senators were released on October 5, 
but the others remain in jail.

The police continue to raid poor neighborhoods, considered bastions of 
support for Haiti’s constitutional government, using arms searches as a 
pretext. They invariably arrest suspected dissidents but find few, if any, 
guns. One raid on Wednesday, October 6, a purported arms search in the poor 
neighborhood of Bel-Air, yielded 75 illegal arrests and not a single weapon.

The United Nations troops in Haiti have not intervened to restrain illegal 
police behavior. UN troops guarded the perimeter of the radio station 
during the October 2 arrests, and routinely accompany police on illegal 
raids. According to a BBC translation of an interview broadcast October 8 
on Haiti’s Radio Metropole, the UN Commander General Brazilian Augusto 
Heleno Ribero Pereira, in discussing police raids in poor neighborhoods, 
declared that “we must kill the bandits but it will have to be the bandits 
only, not everybody.”

The term “bandits” in Haiti sometimes refers to presumed criminals, but 
also more generally to poor urban young men, especially those who support 
Lavalas. General Pereira later blamed the recent upsurge in violence on a 
March 2004 speech by John Kerry, expressing support for democracy in Haiti.

Disturbing the Peace

The United States, Prime Minister Latortue’s principal international 
patron, is well-placed to rein in these abuses, and should use its leverage 
to pry the political prisons open. The State Department did scold Haiti’s 
authorities after July’s arrest of Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, but it was 
more bark than bite. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega declared 
that “sooner rather than later the authorities in Haiti are going to have 
to give Neptune an opportunity to defend himself before an independent 
judge.” That was July 17; three days later the U.S. pledged $230 million to 
the authorities in Haiti, and four months later Neptune has not seen the 
judge who issued his arrest warrant.

The police at Sainte Claire’s may have given the most honest explanation 
for the arrest of Fr. Jean-Juste, and the attacks against the democracy 
movement. They said Jean-Juste was accused of “troubling the public order.” 
When “public order” means widespread violence, political arrests 
reminiscent of the Duvalier era, and hunger unprecedented in modern times, 
Fr. Gerry’s preaching peace, working for justice, and feeding children may 
indeed make him guilty as charged.

Brian Concannon Jr., Esq. is the Director of the Institute for Justice and 
Democracy in Haiti, <http://www.ijdh.org/>www.ijdh.org. The Institute’s 
Lawyers in Haiti are representing Fr. Jean-Juste. He is a contributor to 
the IRC’s Americas Program, online at 
<http://www.americaspolicy.org/>www.americaspolicy.org. This article was 
adapted from an article in The Boston Haitian Reporter, November 2004.

<http://www.americaspolicy.org/commentary/2004/../../join.html>Join our 
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