Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network call on President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to give assurances to Judge Claudy Gassant and hope he will resume work on the Dominique case.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Damocles Network today welcomed the reappointment of Claudy Gassant as investigating judge in the Jean Dominique murder case but warned that it would be futile if he was obliged to work under the same conditions as before. The two organisations called on the authorities to give the judge guarantees.
"Reassigning him the case but with the same problems of personal security and obstruction by the senate and the police is not only pointless but would put his life in danger again," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard and Damocles vice-president Jean-Pierre Getti said in a letter to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (photo AP).
The two organisations also wrote to Judge Gassant (photo HPN) saying they hoped he would agree to take up the case again. "The courage and independence you showed during the 16 months you conducted the investigation, in the face of threats and obstacles, is proof for us that you will tackle the case diligently," they said, adding that he could once again count on their unfailing" support and efforts to help.
Ménard and Getti said however that if Gassant "regrettably" decided not to take the case, he would still enjoy their "total support." The judge’s decision was a "supremely personal one that should be respected by all," they said, noting the "obvious risks such a sensitive investigation still entailed."
The case was "extremely important for Haitian society," they added and hoped that if the judge decided not to resume work on it he would explain why. It was important that the case was not put aside and they hoped the judge would make his decision within a "reasonable" time.
In their letter to President Aristide, the two organisations said they were waiting for Gassant to be given guarantees on four points. First, that the authorities respect the rules for assigning the case "so that later procedural errors cannot be used against the judge." Second, that he be given enough funds for his security and to conduct the investigation. "Failure to do this when the case is so very delicate would effectively block the enquiry and once again put the judge’s life in danger," they said.
RSF and Damocles also called on Aristide, as head of the Fanmi Lavalas party, to ensure that the senate’s overwhelming Lavalas majority voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of Sen. Dany Toussaint (photo AP), the leading suspect in the case. "Once again, it is not a matter of the senate deciding whether the senator is guilty or not, but simply to allow justice to take its course," they said. The two organisations stressed that not lifting his immunity would prevent publication of the formal order ending the inquiry stage of the case and thus oblige the judge to remain officially in charge of it "at the risk of his life."
Finally, Ménard and Getti called for an end to obstruction of the investigation by police failure to execute arrest warrants issued against witnesses and suspects. They urged the arrest of Richard "Cha Cha" Salomon, regarded as Toussaint’s right-hand man, and Franck Joseph, the senator’s bodyguard, who have both refused so far to appear before the judge.
Judge Gassant’s mandate was renewed on 1 April by President Aristide four months after it expired on 3 January and two days before the second anniversary of the 3 April 2000 murder of Dominique (photo RSF), who was head of Radio Haiti Inter. The next day, a presidential spokesman announced the case would again be assigned to Gassant.