3 APRIL 2000 - 3 APRIL 2001
"If they murdered him, they can murder any journalist"
An investigation in Haiti - 19-25 March 2001
Jean Dominique, a Haitian journalist and political commentator, was gunned down in the courtyard of his radio station, Haiti Inter, on 3 April 2000. The murder of one of the country’s most famous journalists deeply shocked Haitians. President René Préval ordered three days of official mourning and 16,000 people attended Dominique’s funeral in the national stadium. Since then, a foundation has been set up (Fondasyon Eko Vwa Jean Dominique) to ensure that those who killed him are punished and that his commitment to mass education is continued.
"If they murdered him, they can murder any journalist," says Liliane Pierre-Paul, a former Radio Haiti Inter journalist who now runs Radio Kiskeya. Haitian journalists have taken the killing as a warning to the entire press.
A year after the murder, a delegation from Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) visited Haiti to see how far the investigation into it had got and highlight the obstacles to its completion.
Haiti has seen a dozen political killings over the past two years and journalists have recently received death threats. A successful investigation of Dominique’s murder would be an important break with the practice of impunity in Haitian society.
Because of the current political atmosphere in Haiti, most of the people RSF talked to asked to remain anonymous.
Jean Dominique: a fighter for democracy
Born into Haiti’s mulatto aristocracy on 30 July 1930, Dominique trained as an agronomist. But he soon aligned himself with the peasantry and the poor, which in Haiti’s highly-stratified society, often meant he was called a traitor to his class. In the late 1960s, he joined Radio Haiti as a reporter and then bought the station in 1971, renaming it Radio Haiti Inter. The station began reaching out, starting the first systematic broadcasting in Creole, the country’s main language, instead of French, which is spoken only by a tiny minority of Haitians. He encouraged reports from the countryside and gave more coverage of world affairs.
As a critic of the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-86), he was forced into exile in 1981 after his wife, Michèle Montas, and other Haiti Inter staff were arrested and deported by the regime. He returned after the fall of President-for-Life Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in February 1986, only to leave again in 1991 when the army seized power. He came back in 1994, after that regime fell too.
After the Duvalier regime collapsed, his fight for democracy and interest in social issues drew him to the Lavalas movement which emerged in 1990 around the presidential candidacy of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But his independent spirit made him reject any suggestion of running for office himself. When his longtime friend René Préval became president in February 1986, Dominique became an unofficial adviser. He continued to air his news and comment show "Inter actualités" and an interview programme "Face à l’opinion." He made many enemies by harshly criticising the country’s moneyed elite, the former Duvalierists, the army, US policy towards Haiti and most recently, certain figures in Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party.
Dominique was murdered when he arrived before dawn at the radio station in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas. He parked his car in the small yard, got out and turned to go into the building. At that moment, a stranger walked into the yard and fired seven shots at Dominique. Four 9 mm bullets fatally wounded him in the neck and the heart and he died on the spot. The gunmen then shot dead the station’s security guard, Jean-Claude Louissant, with a special hollow-point bullet.
"Jean was killed because nobody could tell him what to do or say"
His wife, Michèle Montas, says he was killed "because nobody could tell him what to do or say." He was especially dangerous, she says, because "he was going to stop a lot of people making a lot of money" but "he didn’t have files on people," as some believed. "He was just good at picking up scraps of information and extracting meaning from them." His daughter Gigi recalls how some people lost their jobs after replying to his blunt questions in interviews.
In the months before his death, he had said on the air that several institutions involved in preparing the 21 May 2000 parliamentary elections were plotting an "electoral coup d’etat" to limit the number of people who could vote. He criticised the voter registration period as too short and the number of polling stations as too few. He attacked the National Elections Observation Council (CNO), which grouped several civil society organisations, and the official Interim Elections Board (CEP) which was in charge of the poll. CNO chief Léopold Berlanger was summoned for questioning by the examining magistrate in early November 2000 and then in February 2001. Berlanger says Dominique’s murder was used as an excuse to attack the CNO.
Dominique several times criticised the pharmaceutical firm Pharval, owned by the Boulos family: in 1997 for selling a contaminated cough syrup that killed at least 80 children and more recently for selling ethanol-laced alcohol.
In October 1999, he accused former interim police chief (1995-96) Dany Toussaint, a member of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas, of conducting a smear campaign against former secretary of state for public security Robert Manuel and the then police chief, Pierre Denizé. The two were alleged by several radio stations to have been involved in the 8 October murder of Jean Lamy, Manuel’s expected successor. On 19 October, he warned Aristide in a broadcast to beware of "the ambitions" of Toussaint. "I know he has enough money to pay and arm henchmen," he said. "If he tries to move against me or the radio station and if I’m still alive, I’ll close the station down and go into exile once again with my wife and children."
The New York Haitian radio station Radio Liberté on 9 February 2000 broadcast death threats against Dominique and his wife by two of Toussaint’s lawyers, Jean-Claude Nord and Gérard Georges, and former Duvalierist Serge Beaulieu. A few months later, Nord called for Mrs Dominique to explain before a judge why she was not with her husband at the time he was killed, suggesting she had arranged his murder so she could get the proceeds of his life insurance. He also accused her waging a campaign to destroy Toussaint’s drive to be elected president in 2005.
Results of the official investigation
The enquiry into Dominique’s death began with several false leads. A few days after he was killed, the body of his murderer was said to have been found, but it proved that the suspect had died three days before the murder. A few weeks later, Bob Lecorps, accused in 1997 of helping to murder justice minister Guy Malary in 1993, was arrested as he tried to cross into the Dominican Republic. He was soon released for want of a link to the Dominique killing.
Nearly 80 people have been questioned by judges Jean Sénat Fleury and Claudy Gassant, who have successively been preparing the case of Dominique’s murder. The investigators have found that:
The killing was planned in the course of several meetings.
The day of the murder, the killers were lying in wait outside the radio station. There were seven of them: two gunmen and five accomplices who waited in three vehicles - a red Nissan Pathfinder in which the gunmen got away, a white Cherokee jeep and a small truck parked a little further away.
Despite the different kinds of bullets found in Dominique’s and Louissant’s bodies, they probably came from the same gun, which has not been found.
Two of the vehicles, the Cherokee and the Nissan, had been stolen and already used to commit other crimes. The third vehicle was found burned-out.
No mastermind in the killing has been questioned but six people have been jailed for being directly or indirectly involved.
The suspected killer, Jamely Millien, known as Ti Lou, who was arrested about 10 days after the crime.
The second gunman, Jean Daniel Jeudi (known as Gime), Ti Lou’s brother, whose job was to cover him during the shooting. He was arrested a few weeks after the investigation began.
A person known to have had contacts with people working in the presidential palace.
Philippe Markington, an informer selling information he got through his access to many institutions. He presented himself to investigators a few days after the murder, claiming he had seen everything because, he said, he had been at the scene by chance. He was ready to cooperate with the enquiry in exchange for the release from prison of a friend. The accuracy of his descriptions made police suspect he had in fact taken part in the killing. He provided the numbers of two of the vehicles involved and said where the third vehicle had been abandoned..
fi Two policemen, one of whom, Ralph Léger, was arrested in possession of the white Cherokee jeep.
An investigation by Ana Arana for the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), published on 12 March 2001, said the first three of the above had links with Ronald Camille (known as Ronald Cadavre), the suspected head of several criminal organisations and a man with a long criminal record. His name was mentioned in an enquiry into the murder of opposition senator Yvon Toussaint. Cadavre is thought to control networks of stolen vehicles and weapons in the capital’s port area and to run extortion rackets. Arana says his domain extends from the port to the central market. Cadavre, who has reportedly just won control of the port security service, was questioned by the examining magistrate. His brother Franco is a member of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party
The mysterious death of Jean-Wilner Lalanne
As they looked into the origin of the stolen vehicles used in the killing, the investigators came across Jean-Wilner Lalanne, who worked for a network handling stolen cars. He had been arrested in connection with the murder of an engineer in a Port-au-Prince suburb and then freed in unclear circumstances.
Lalanne was arrested again on 15 June 2000 as a suspected link between the gunmen and those who ordered the killing of Dominique. He was shot and wounded in the buttocks and thigh when he was detained and died 13 days later during an operation to mend a broken thigh-bone. The exact cause of his death has not been established. The orthopaedic surgeon who performed the operation, Dr Alix Charles, said he died from a pulmonary embolism, but this appears to be contradicted by the autopsy. Two months later, when a second autopsy was ordered, it was found that Lalanne’s body had mysteriously disappeared a few weeks earlier. The examining magistrate has opened an enquiry.
In early July, a few days after Lalanne died, Radio Haiti Inter raised questions about why there was violence when he was arrested. Three of those arrested for suspected involvement in the Dominique killing, including the suspected gunman, Ti Lou, were wounded in the course of being detained. After his arrest, Lalanne said several times he was afraid of being murdered. He was not guarded during his first days in hospital and people were able to visit him without the presence of police. In the 13 days before his operation, he was questioned just once by the examining magistrate, who only asked him about the murder of the engineer.
Lalanne had chosen another doctor for the operation, but it was done by Dr Charles. On 28 June, he was transferred from the general hospital to the Saint-François de Sales hospital where Charles operated the same afternoon, helped by a Dr Delaneau and two anaesthetists, Marie Yves-Rose Chrisostome and Gina Georges. Charles is being investigated on suspicion of manslaughter, but has not yet responded to a summons to appear before a judge. Four other people are in jail in connection with Lalanne’s death.
A number of people have wondered about the links between Charles and Dany Toussaint. Charles is a friend of Richard Salomon, said to be Toussaint’s right-hand man. It was Lalanne’s lawyer, Ephésien Joassaint, who asked Charles to operate. Joassaint had been recommended to Lalanne by Jean-Claude Nord, Toussaint’s lawyer.
Obstruction by the Senate
Judge Claudy Gassant, who had been in charge of the case since September, asked Sen. Toussaint in early November to present himself for questioning. Senators claimed Toussaint had parliamentary immunity and did not have to respond, but the Constitution says such immunity only applies when the member of parliament risks arrest, which was not the case.
Pressure on the judge became very heavy. The Senate president, Yvon Neptune, said that "an insignificant little judge" could not summon a member of the Senate, whose members threatened to "investigate the precise reasons" for the judge wanting to talk to Toussaint. An associate of Sen. Prince Pierre Sonson said he had been threatened after Sonson called on Toussaint to go before the judge.
Judge Gassant was threatened on 30 January 2001 by a parliamentary deputy, Millien Rommage, a former assistant chief of presidential security and associate of Toussaint. The judge had just been questioning some of Toussaint’s associates when Rommage and a carload of heavily-armed men intercepted his car and warned him that "if he continued," his car might be fired on.
Toussaint finally asked permission from Senate president Neptune on 21 February to go to see judge Gassant, who subsequently questioned him on several occasions.
Pressure on the judges
Holding up a copy of the Constitution, Judge Gassant told the Reporters Sans Frontières delegation that he intended to use all his powers under the law to complete his examination of the Dominique case. But he said he was up against the hostility and customary behaviour of certain social classes and professions.
In March, a group of lawyers, including the head of the bar association, Rigaud Duplan, criticised Gassant for not allowing lawyers to be present while he heard evidence from people in the Dominique case. The presence of lawyers is usually accepted, Gassant noted, but is not obligatory under the official criminal investigation guidelines. A few weeks earlier, he had run into resistance from a number of doctors and from the university medical school, who objected to him coming to investigate on their premises. In February, Gassant was reproached by parliamentary deputies for "illegally" arresting someone in the parliamentary compound, while in fact the person had been detained on the orders of the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Pierre Paul Cotin.
Judge Gassant said he was shocked that the IAPA report contained the names of the people arrested and jailed, who he said were supposed to be protected by the confidentiality of the investigation. He was being guarded by four policemen, he said, and at the height of his conflict with the Senate, he had been escorted by five members of the Swat special operations police. His family was living abroad and he regularly changed his place of residence. One day, three members of his police escort simply left, fearing for their safety.
His predecessor, Judge Jean Sénat Fleury, decide to drop the case after receiving threats. When he summoned Toussaint to give evidence in the Dominique case on 26 July 2000, before he had taken up his post as senator, he turned up with a group of "chimères" - hired demonstrators from the capital’s slums - who shouted insults outside the main law courts where the meeting with Fleury took place.
Dominique’s widow Michèle no longer receives anonymous calls but her life is still in danger. "I weigh the threats by the number of bodyguards I’m given at any time," she says, noting that they were doubled during the dispute between Gassant and the Senate. Reflecting that she could well have been with her husband when he was shot, she says she is living on borrowed time. As one judge put it, "this kind of affair can cost you your life."
Senator Toussaint explains
Former army major Dany Toussaint was elected a senator in May 2000, took his seat four months later and now heads that body’s justice, police and security committee. He insisted to RSF that Jean Dominique had not been an enemy. He denied any responsibility for the presence of "chimères" demonstrating in front of Radio Haiti Inter on 18 October 1999 and said that on that day, he had been at the funeral of one of his bodyguards.
Toussaint said he was very popular among Haitians and "a rising star" that some people wanted to "shoot down." He said the murder of Dominique had immediately been used against him and claimed a transcript of Dominique’s 19 October attack on him had been distributed in the streets of Port-au-Prince hours after the killing. Toussaint accused judge Gassant of wanting to make "a big thing" out of summoning him to testify in the case. In his 21 February letter to Senate president Neptune, Toussaint had attacked "the deliberate attempt by the judiciary to treacherously undermine (his) reputation." Asked why his supporters had demonstrated when he went to see judge Fleury on July 26, he said: "I didn’t know I had to tell my supporters not to turn up."
He denied the many reports that he had a lot of money. He presented bank documents to RSF to show he was having serious financial problems and said he had been forced to sell a video games parlour he owned. But he admitted he had another bank account he did not give details of.
About the Senate conflict, he insisted he personally had wanted to go and see judge Gassant but that it was for the Senate to decide whether the judge’s request was legal.
Toussaint denied knowing any of the people arrested in the Dominique murder case, even from the time when he was interim police chief, in 1995-96. He stressed he had not known Lalanne "either before or after his death." Some of those arrested were suspected of dealing in stolen vehicles and he pointed out that he was promoting a bill in parliament to make such theft a full-blown crime. As for Ronald Cadavre, Toussaint first said he was "used to seeing him" because his brother Franco was a Fanmi Lavalas member, but later said he had only met him once in spring 2000 during his senatorial election campaign. He said Dominique had made much harsher attacks on people other than him and that the killers were probably to be found among the underworld, former Duvalierists or even the government itself.
Government interest in the case and public activism
The investigating judges’ achievements so far in the face of many difficulties have been made because of solid support from the government of former President René Préval, who made special provisions for security and gave financial and logistical support to the enquiry.
Since Dominique’s funeral, public backing for the investigation, encouraged and supported by Radio Haiti Inter, has been very important and has driven it forward. After the death of Lalanne, there were several demonstrations in front of the main law courts and the city magistrate’s court calling for justice and protesting against the slow progress of the investigation. Radio Haiti Inter shut down from 3-5 February 2001 in protest against what it called "deliberate and arbitrary attempts by the Senate to obstruct the judicial investigation into the contract killing" of Dominique.
Together with the Fondasyon Eko Vwa Jean Dominique, a group of about 20 organisations recently formed an alliance against impunity and lawlessness to help member-organisations redouble their own efforts against impunity. Several events are planned to mark the first anniversary of Dominique’s murder on 3 April, including exhibitions, public meetings, a media campaign and the screening of a documentary by filmmaker Joanthan Demme. Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, has the last word: "We live in an atmosphere of impunity in which the criminals always get away with their crimes. But this time they won’t."
Conclusions and recommendations
The Reporters Sans Frontières delegation notes that the murder investigation has run into obstacles, come under outside pressure and been marked by incidents that cause concern. RSF considers the investigators have nevertheless made encouraging progress thanks to solid support from the government of former President René Préval and the mobilisation of public opinion.
Reporters Sans Frontières welcomes President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s desire for the investigation to be given "a new lease of life," expressed during his visit to Radio Haiti Inter on 3 March 2001. It also welcomes justice minister Gary Lissade’s promise to give the investigators "all the support they need so that nothing obstructs the enquiry."
Reporters Sans Frontières however fears that new obstacles will be encountered that could prevent the current preliminary investigation leading to the trial of those who ordered and carried out the murder of Jean Dominique. It calls on :
the Haitian government to continue physically protecting those involved in the investigation and to increase the funding, equipment and other means at the enquiry’s disposal.
the Haitian parliament to respect the independence of the country’s courts and judges.
the Haitian government to carry out the decisions of the judiciary, regardless of who those decisions apply to, and that
the Organisation of American States, the European Union, the International Organisation of French-Speaking Countries and the United Nations Independent Expert on Haiti to pay special attention to the case.