Three lawyers in Haiti are reporting an increase of threats and intimidation against them in recent months. They believe they may be targeted for their activism and criticisms against the Haitian government.
On 28 September, the Chief Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince, Jean Renel Sénatus, was interviewed at local radio station, where he discussed his dismissal by the Ministry of Justice because he refused to implement a ministerial order to arrest 36 political opponents. It is not clear on which grounds these arrests had been ordered. The Ministry of Justice denied having given such orders.
Among the 36 political opponents were the names of lawyers Mario Joseph, Newton St-Juste and André Michel. Mario Joseph is a prominent human rights lawyer who is involved in sensitive judicial cases such as proceedings against former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, complaints against the UN for their alleged involvement in spreading the cholera epidemic in Haiti, and cases of forced evictions of people made homeless after the earthquake. As head of the International Lawyers Office (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux), he addressed the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights last July, requesting to visit Haiti to investigate human rights violations. Newton St-Juste and André Michel, also lawyers, recently filed criminal grievances against the wife and the son of the President of the Republic of Haiti for corruption and embezzlement of public funds.
Tomorrow, August 12th marks the first anniversary of the disappearance of human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, Haitian political activist kidnapped for his active and tireless commitment to a democratic and sovereign Haiti. Special vigils will be held across the world, including Haiti, London, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The statement put out by the Global Women’s Strike calls for us to remember Lovinsky’s work for justice and his abduction, and to remind the US, UN and Haitian authorities that his family, friends and community, and people around the world will continue tirelessly to demand his safe return. It is true that in the English-speaking Caribbean we have our share of woes – political stagnation, rapidly rising crime levels and kidnappings. This might lead us to ignore what is going on elsewhere. But it is unfortunate (more than unfortunate, disgraceful really) that we know and seem to care so little about the ongoing struggles of the Haitian people, when it is Haiti that has given the entire Caribbean and the world one of the earliest lessons in liberation from oppression, with the example set by Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian revolution. The crisis in that country today cannot be divorced from the shameful price it was forced to pay for its independence and defeat of Napoleon’s army (a price that included compensating France for the ending of slavery and crippling sanctions imposed by the United States). As Trinidadian Calypsonian David Rudder sings:
Toussaint was a mighty man and to make matters worse he was black
Black and back in the days when black man knew his place was to be in the back
But Toussaint he upset Napoleon, who thought it wasn’t very nice
And so today my brothers and sisters, they still pay the price
PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 36/008/2005
UA 195/05 Arbitrary arrest/prisoner of conscience 25 July 2005
HAITI Gérard Jean-Juste (m), aged 59, Catholic priest
Catholic priest Gérard Jean-Juste was taken into custody at a police station “for his own protection” on 21 July, after he was assaulted, but while he was at the police station he was accused of murder. He was abroad at the time of the murder of which he has been accused, but he is a prominent opponent of the government. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience, detained solely because he has peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression. He risks spending a long time in custody awaiting trial on apparently trumped-up charges.
Rev. Jean-Juste has been an outspoken supporter of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and critic of the present government, in his sermons and in radio broadcasts. On 21 July he attended the funeral of journalist Jacques Roche, at a church in the Pétionville suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince. He was assaulted and threatened by a mob outside the church, who said he was one of those responsible for the violence that is sweeping the capital. He was taken to Pétionville police station by officers from the Haitian police and the UN civilian police force, CIVPOL. None of his attackers is known to have been detained.