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Haiti10 October 2005

Open letter from Reporters Without Borders to candidates in the presidential elections : Future president must break with culture of impunity

For the attention of:

Charles H.J. Marie Baker, Marc Louis Bazin, Casimir Bélizaire, Joël Borgella, Philippe Jean-Hénold Buteau, Claude Bonivert, Paul Denis, Hubert Deronceray, Marc Antoine Destin, Joseph Rigaud Duplan, Edouard Francisque, Reynold Georges, Serge Gilles, Gérard Gourgue, Jean Chavannes Jeune, René Julien, Emmanuel Justima, Leslie Manigat, Luc Mésadieu, Samir Georges Mourra, Evans Nicolas, Evans Paul, Frantz Perpignan, Guy Philippe, René Préval, Himmler Rébu, Franck François Romain, Charles Poisset Romain, Judie Roy, Yves Maret Saint-Louis, Jean Jacques Sylvain and Dany Toussaint.

Dear Candidates,

The campaign for the presidential and legislative elections of 20 November and 3 January has just officially begun. You are all running for the post of president of Haiti. As you are aware, being a candidate entails a commitment. The next president will not just have to defend the constitution and maintain the balance of powers. As depository of the Haitian people’s vote, it will also be your duty to consolidate a true democratic culture in Haiti, of which press freedom must be one of the pillars.

The situation of journalists and the media is a key indicator of a country’s democratic health. Reporters Without Borders, an organisation dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, again saw how true this is during a field mission to Haiti from 22 to 28 September. It emerged from the visit, which included meetings with journalists and media executives, as well as lawyers, judges, police officers, human rights activists and culture and communication minister Magali Comeau Denis, that 2005 has been a very mixed year. This spurs us to be especially vigilant. We hope our vigilance will be shared and will be translated into action by the person who enters the National Palace on 7 February.

In the course of this visit and the preceding one in June 2004, Reporters Without Borders saw an improvement in respect for press freedom since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s fall from power on 29 February 2004. The journalists we met said they were under less pressure, had more editorial freedom and did not fear reprisals from the state apparatus. Despite this progress, the prevailing level of political and criminal violence is still alarming and the press continues to be especially exposed to it.

The first quarter of 2005 was marked by the tragic shooting of 24-year-old Laraque Robenson of radio Tele Contact in Petit-Goâve. He sustained bullet wounds to the head and neck during a shootout between former Haitian soldiers and a detachment of peacekeepers from the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) on 20 March and died of his injuries in a Cuban hospital on 4 April. The fatal shots were alleged to have fired by peacekeepers. MINUSTAH carried out an internal investigation but never released its findings. This episode highlighted the problems of cooperation between the peacekeeping force and the transitional government. Restoration of the rule of law will depend on the relations between MINUSTAH and the government that emerges from the elections.

MINUSTAH and Haiti’s police and judicial authorities have until now still not managed to dismantle the arsenal of some 200,000 illegal firearms circulating within Haiti. Nor have they succeeded in neutralising the approximately 100 gangs that operate with complete impunity and have made kidnapping their speciality in the past year. MINUSTAH estimates that six million dollars have been paid in ransoms during the past six months. The Haitian press has paid a high price in this climate of terror.

Nancy Roc, the presenter of the radio magazine Métropolis on Radio Métropole, fled the country on 16 June after getting phone calls for nearly a week threatening her with kidnapping. Roc, who had been investigating arms and drug trafficking, finally decided she had to go after receiving an anonymous call telling her that her abduction was now just “a question of hours.” Radio Métropole station manager Richard Widmaier had himself narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt in Port-au-Prince just five days before, on 11 June.

Jacques Roche, a columnist and arts and culture editor at the daily Le Matin, was not so lucky. Kidnapped on 10 July in Port-au-Prince, he was found dead four days later. The state of his body indicated he was tortured with extreme cruelty. Investigators established that the kidnappers initially demanded a ransom of 250,000 dollars for his release, and that Roche’s family and Le Matin paid them 10,000 dollars on the afternoon of 11 July. After at first insisting on getting the remaining 240,000 dollars, the kidnappers reduced their demand on 13 July to 50,000 dollars. But in the meantime, they had begun to realise who Roche was and that, in particular, he presented a programme on Télé Haïti and the national TV station on behalf of the “Group of 184,” a coalition which had spearheaded protests against former President Aristide. A Le Matin journalist who had the job of negotiating with the kidnappers was told: “You had President Aristide kidnapped and, in so doing, you taught us kidnapping.” At first just criminally-motivated, Roche’s abduction had become political.

Roche’s suspected kidnappers all belong to a gang called the “Rat Army” that operates in the Port-au-Prince district of Bel-Air. Three of them were arrested by MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police (PNH): Roger “Ti Edgard” Etienne on 16 July, and Flaubert Forestal and Jules Mentor on 22 July. The names (or aliases) of the following participants in Roche’s kidnapping and murder emerged during interrogation: Alamaskay, Ti Réginald, Peter Dan Sere (who was shot dead during a MINUSTAH operation in September), Johnny Céron, Dérosiers Becker (aka Tiyabout) and Nicolas Augudson (aka General Toutou). Reporters Without Borders welcomes the investigation’s rapid progress but thinks the suspects still at large should now be quickly located and arrested. Their arrests would severely weaken the Rat Army’s control of Bel-Air, which the Haitian press still does not dare to enter. Our organisation also hopes that those detained receive due process and an early trial.

This is one of the major challenges for the next government. The president and administration that emerge from the coming elections must break with the culture of impunity that is jeopardising the future of democracy in Haiti. Reporters Without Borders will therefore continue to campaign for the truth to be revealed about the two murders which are unfortunately emblematic of this persistent impunity and the serious and chronic judicial malfunctioning that allows it to continue - the murders of Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor.

More than five years have passed since the double murder of Dominique, Radio Haïti Inter’s director and political commentator, and the station’s caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissaint, on 3 April 2000 in Port-au-Prince. The judicial investigation, concluded on 21 March 2003, resulted in the indictment and arrest of six members of armed gangs known as “chimères.” They were Dymsley “Ti Lou” Milien, Jeudi “Guimy” Jean-Daniel, Philippe Markington, Ralph Léger, Freud Junior Demarattes and Ralph Joseph. The charges against the last three were dropped by an appeal court on 4 August 2003.

We were dismayed to learn that Ti Lou, Guimy and Markington took advantage of a prison riot in February 2005 to escape. During Reporters Without Borders’ latest visit to Haiti, in September, several sources close to the Dominique investigation told us that Ti Lou and Guimy are now in Martissant, a district on the south side of Port-au-Prince, where they have become gang leaders. If they have been located, why have they not been recaptured and returned to prison?

The Reporters Without Borders delegation that visited Haiti in June 2004 obtained assurances from interim President Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Gérard Latortue and then justice minister Bernard Gousse that the judicial proceedings in the Dominique case would be relaunched. The supreme court issued a ruling on 29 June 2004 ordering a new investigation. Thereafter it took nearly a year for an investigative judge to be properly appointed, and then he was unable to work.

Is it normal that the justice minister publicly announced on 3 April 2005, the fifth anniversary of Dominique’s death, that a judge had been put in charge of the case, and yet the judge has not been able to see a single piece of evidence in the file? Is it normal that the two letters which this judge sent to the justice minister requesting the necessary resources to carry out this investigation never received a reply? Is it also normal that the promise of resources (car, driver and bodyguards) made to the judge by Gousse’s successor as justice minister, Henri Dorléans, was never acted on?

These highly questionable failures and omissions compound the many others that have dogged the case since the outset. Former Port-au-Prince deputy mayor Harold Sévère and Ostide “Douze” Pétion were arrested on 14 March 2004 on suspicion of involvement in the Dominique murder. Annette “Sò Anne” Auguste, Aristide’s liaison with “popular organisations,” who was arrested in connection with another case on 10 May 2004 in Port-au-Prince, was later alleged to be also linked to the Dominique case. Nonetheless, none of these suspects has undergone the least interrogation. Similarly, there has never been any attempt to verify the alleged hit-man Ti Lou’s claim that he was paid 10,000 dollars to kill Dominique. Finally, no light has ever been shed on the suspicious deaths of two witnesses.

The Lindor murder is the other big pending case eroding the credibility of Haiti’s political and judicial institutions. Four years after this young Radio Echo 2000 reporter was hacked and stoned to death in Petit-Goâve on 3 December 2001, must we resign ourselves to the judicial impasse that has brought proceedings to a halt? After an appeal court rejected the Lindor family’s request to be granted civil party status in the case, they turned to the supreme court on 21 April 2003. More than two years later, the supreme court still has not issued a ruling, although it should have done so within two months. Twice, in June and November 2004, Reporters Without Borders interceded to call for the case to be reactivated. The prolonged delay exacerbates the disgust and incomprehension prompted by the botched investigation concluded in September 2002.

Everything seems to have been done to cover up the premeditated and planned nature of Lindor’s murder. Reporters Without Borders would like to recall the following facts, supporting a report by the Citizens Commission for Implementing Justice (CCAJ) that was handed to the justice minister in July 2004.

Four days before Lindor’s murder, a press conference was held in Petit-Goâve on 29 November 2001 by several local figures linked to former President Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, including Petit-Goâve mayor Emmanuel Antoine and his deputy, Bony Dumay, who launched into a violent verbal attack on the opposition Democratic Convergence coalition and Lindor, considered to be one of its allies. Another meeting was held on 2 December, the eve of his murder, this time between municipal officials and members of “Domi nan Bwa,” an armed group linked to Fanmi Lavalas.

One of Domi nan Bwa’s chiefs, Joseph Céus Duverger, was attacked the next morning by presumed Democratic Convergence supporters. This incident was used as a pretext for the targeted reprisal against Lindor later in the day. Evidence of this comes from the fact that around 10 Domi nan Bwa members were on the point of executing Democratic Convergence member Love Augustin at his home but, when Lindor arrived on the scene, they let him go and seized Lindor.

Despite all these facts, the indictment issued by judge Fritner Duclair on 16 September 2002 failed to bring any charges any of the presumed instigators of Lindor’s murder. No Petit-Goâve municipal officials were ever questioned or detained. Charges were brought against 10 Domi nan Bwa members who took part in the murder but, according to the Lindor family lawyer, none of them was ever detained. One of the presumed killers, Joubert Saint-Just, was detained by the inhabitants of nearby Miragoâne on 30 March 2005 and handed over to the police, but that was for an unrelated reason.

As for all the initiatives taken by the Lindor family, the CCAJ and the Brignol Lindor Solidarity and Justice Committee (COSOJUBRIL), they never received any support from the transitional government or the interim president, Alexandre, himself a former supreme court president.

The various cases that concern Reporters Without Borders did not just cause mourning in the Haitian press, they shocked the entire Haitian population and dismayed the international community. Within the terms of its mandate, Reporters Without Borders would like to support the efforts to democratise Haiti to which the winners of the coming elections and the next president in particular will have to respond. For this reason, our organisation asks you to promise to ensure that:

-  The perpetrators, accessories and accomplices of Roche’s murder are tried soon,

-  The supreme court quickly issues a ruling in the Lindor case, and a new investigating judge is named.

-  The Haitian National Police arrests the Dominique murder suspects who are still at large and circulate openly.

-  Effective investigative resources are provided to the judge in charge of investigating this case.

-  The judiciary and police cooperate more in their handling of cases affecting the press.

-  The presence of police officers from other countries as part of MINUSTAH is used to promote a credible and effective criminal justice system.

-  Human rights groups such as CCAJ and COSOJUBRIL work with any commission of enquiry or parliamentary commission that is set up to shed light on the activities of the armed groups still operating. And these human rights groups are made real partners in the future government’s efforts to restore the rule of law,

-  The authorities that emerge from the coming elections really set about strengthening the Haitian judicial system, especially the criminal justice system, and impunity is ended in Haiti.

We hope you will give the Haitian people an undertaking to do all of this and that you will keep your promise if elected.

Sincerely,

Reporters Without Borders



In this country
3 December - Haiti
Seven years after radio journalist’s murder, convicted killers still at large
13 May - Haiti
Finger pointed at US interposition force in the 2004 death of journalist Ricardo Ortega
11 April - Haiti
Responses from Sen. Rudolph Boulos and Harold Sévère to Reporters Without Borders release on Jean Dominique murder
25 January - Haiti
Victory over impunity “within reach” in Lindor murder after seven are convicted in absentia
13 December - Haiti
Two gang members get life for journalist’s murder, a third is acquitted

in the annual report
Haiti - Annual Report 2008
Haiti - Annual report 2007
Haiti - Annual report 2006


reports
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No surrender by independent journalists, five years on from “black spring”
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