[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 Haitis Sainte Claires 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 Haitis constitution, nor was Fr. Jean-Juste brought
before a judge within 48 hours as the law requires.
A Priests 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 Duvaliers 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 Floridas 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 Haitis 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 governments opponents or by its
supporters. In one particularly memorable moment, when opposition political
party offices were attacked after Jean Dominiques 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.
Haitis 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-Justes 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
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 judges 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
Aristides Lavalas party. Over 700 political prisoners too poor to be
noticed by the outside world rot anonymously behind bars, according to the
Catholic Churchs Justice and Peace Commission. Well over 1,000 more
democracy supporters have been killed.
The interim governments 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 Haitis September 30, 1991coup detat. 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 Haitis 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 Haitis 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 Latortues 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 Haitis
authorities after Julys 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 Claires 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. Gerrys 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 Institutes
Lawyers in Haiti are representing Fr. Jean-Juste. He is a contributor to
the IRCs 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.
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