Reporters Without Borders wrote to Haitian Prime Minister Gérard Latortue today voicing outrage at the disappearance of three quarters of the documents that made up the investigating judge’s case file in the April 2000 murder of journalist Jean Dominique.
"The disappearance of this evidence proves that the persons targeted by this investigation still have the ability to do a great deal of harm," the organisation said in its letter. "The government owes an explanation for the serious negligence, if not complicity, that allowed this to happen."
Reporters Without Borders said it hoped a thorough investigation would be carried out into the disappearance and that appropriate sanctions would be applied. "The investigation should establish who was responsible and, whatever their rank, those responsible should be punished."
The organisation also asked the prime minister to provide the supreme court prosecutor with all the necessary human resources so that the case file can built up again as soon as possible.
"It is incredible that all this evidence has gone missing after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s departure, although you said the fight against impunity and the restoration of the rule of law were your priorities," Reporters Without Borders said.
"Our outrage is all the greater because the documents went missing from the office of the clerk of the supreme court, although the case file should have been sent back months ago to the chief judge of the general court so that a new investigating judge could be appointed." The organisation added: "Not only did the case not advance because this was not done, but worse still, the delay made this deplorable episode possible."
Reporters Without Borders learned on 4 December that more than 150 of the approximately 190 documents in the case file had gone missing while it was at the supreme court. The National Coalition for Haitian Rights, a Haitian human rights group, specified on 8 December that only 32 of a total of 196 documents were still left. Justice minister Bernard Gousse admitted yesterday that 75 per cent of the documents had indeed gone missing.
The disappearance presumably took place some time between 1 July, when the supreme court issued a ruling on the case, and late November. An enquiry has been opened.
Jean Dominique, the country’s best-known journalist and political commentator, was shot dead on 3 April 2000 in the courtyard of the radio station he ran, Radio Haïti Inter. The station’s security guard, Jean-Claude Louissaint, was also killed. Ever since then, virtually all state institutions have thrown up obstacles to solving the murder, which Aristide associates are thought to have committed.
This has included arrest warrants never carried out, the suspicious death of two suspects in custody, the senate’s refusal to lift the immunity of one of its members, Aristide’s refusal to reappoint the investigating judge in the case, an attempt to kill Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, and threats against the staff of Radio Haïti Inter which forced it to close down.
The legal investigation ended on 21 March 2003 with the charging of six people, already under arrest, for carrying out the murder. Nobody was named as the person who ordered them to do it however. Both Montas and the six accused appealed against the investigation report. The Port-au-Prince appeals court ordered a new enquiry on 4 August that year and the release of three of the suspects. The other three appealed against the decision to the supreme court, automatically suspending the start of a new enquiry.
The court rejected their appeals on 1 July this year. Since then, it has been up to the government legal representative attached to the court to send the case file to his opposite number with the main lower court so its chief, Jean-Joseph Lebrun, can appoint another investigating judge who will reopen the case. But six months after the supreme court ruling, this simple administrative formality has not been carried out. It was during this delay that the documents went missing. In a letter to Reporters Without Borders that was received today, the justice minister said, "the investigating judge who will take over the case has already been chosen." He also said, "the justice minister cannot give orders to the courts."