The investigation into the murder of the radio journalist Jean Dominique has been handed over to Judge Bernard Saint-Vil, who has been in charge of the enquiry into the supposed attempted coup last 17 December. The decision to transfer to him all the former responsibilities of Judge Claudy Gassant was reportedly taken at a meeting of judges on 24 June presided over by senior judge Jocelyne Pierre.
06.25.02 - Jean Dominique case / Judge Gassant: "I am nothing to do with this any more."
Exiled judge Claudy Gassant (photo), formerly in charge of investigating the April 2000 murder of prominent radio journalist Jean Dominique, has denied the Haitian government’s claim that it officially informed him he was being reappointed to lead the enquiry.
He told Reporters Without Borders that remarks by presidential spokesman Jacques Maurice, reported in the Haitian daily paper Le Nouvelliste on 11 June, that he had twice been formally notified were not true.
Instead of contacting him, he said, the government had tried to blame him for the hold-up in the investigation. But it was President Jean-Bertrand Aristide himself who was blocking it, he said, adding: "I am nothing to do with this case any more." Despite Aristide’s public reassurances, his life would probably be in danger if he returned to Haiti from the United States, he said.
Following Gassant’s remarks, Reporters Without Borders, the Damocles Network and the Haitian Journalists’ Association (AJH) called for the case to be transferred to another judge. "There is now no reason for this investigation to remain without anyone in charge of it," they said in a joint letter to Jocelyne Pierre, head of the Port-au-Prince civil court.
"We regret Judge Gassant’s position, but the most important thing is that the legal process continues so that the investigation [which Gassant had completed] can be officially declared at an end and the trial of those accused of the crime can begin," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, AJH secretary-general Joseph Guyler C. Delva and Damocles vice-president Jean-Pierre Getti.
They called on Judge Pierre not to focus on procedural matters that would hold up the appointment of a new judge in the case. "It is no longer important whether it was President Aristide or Judge Gassant who did not follow the right procedures. The facts are that Aristide said he was reappointing Gassant and Gassant has indicated he is no longer interested in the job. The extreme importance of this case for Haitian society requires that it now be handed over as soon as possible to another judge who is competent and independent," the three bodies said.
Jean Dominique (photo), Haiti’s best-known journalist and political commentator, was shot dead on 3 April 2000 in the courtyard of the radio station he ran, Radio Haiti Inter. He was famous for being outspoken and criticised former Duvalierists, ex-army figures and the country’s rich families alike. Not long before he was killed, he also accused people inside Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party of trying to "divert the movement from its original ideals."
The investigation of the murder was assigned to Judge Gassant in September 2000 after the previous judge in charge of it, Jean-Sénat Fleury, resigned after receiving threats. Gassant’s term expired on 3 January this year and was not renewed by Aristide. It was, however, three months later, on 1 April, after national and international pressure.
A presidential spokesman then said the Dominique enquiry would once more be his responsibility. Gassant has not formally responded to this decision, saying it has not been officially forwarded to him in the United States, where he has been living since January. During the 16 months he was investigating the murder, he was frequently threatened and subjected to pressure.