Reporters Without Borders said today it remained "deeply concerned" about the failure of the Haitian authorities to punish those who nearly three years ago (3 April 2000) murdered the country’s leading journalist, Jean Dominque. It said it was awaiting with much interest the official closure of investigating judge Bernard Saint-Vil’s enquiry into the killing, which would allow formal charges to be publicly made in the case.
"We are very worried about the personal safety of the judge in view of the apparent attempt to kill Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, last December 25," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "We call on the international community, especially the Organisation of American States, to be particularly vigilant."
Judge Saint-Vil is expected shortly to announce the end of his enquiry along with a list of people he accuses of being involved in the murder. He has sent his report to the public prosecutor, who is believed to have returned it to him about a month ago with comments. After receiving the comments, the judge must formally announce within 30 days that the case is being sent before a court.
A probe hampered by many obstacles
The outspoken Dominique, Haiti’s best-known journalist and political commentator, was killed in the courtyard of his radio station, Radio Haiti Inter. He had criticised all sides - supporters of the former Duvalier family dictatorship, ex-military figures, members of the country’s wealthy families and those he suspected in President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party of having turned the organisation away from its original principles.
The murder investigation was assigned in September 2000 to Judge Claudy Gassant after his predecessor, Judge Jean-Sénat Fleury, had resigned after receiving threats. Gassant fled to the United States after his mandate expired on 3 January 2002 and was not immediately renewed by Aristide. He had been repeatedly harassed after naming an Aristide supporter and former army major, Sen. Dany Toussaint, as the man responsible for Dominique’s death. Since July last year, the investigation has been in the hands of Judge Saint-Vil.
For the past three years, virtually all state institutions have obstructed the murder investigation. The justice ministry never gave Judge Gassant adequate protection despite threats to him. Police refused to carry our arrest warrants and were also suspected of handing over a leading suspect to a mob who then lynched him. The senate refused to lift the Toussaint’s parliamentary immunity of Toussaint.
Dominique’s widow, who took over the radio station after his death, was the target of an apparent attempt to kill her at her home last December 25, in which one of her bodyguards, Maxime Séide, was shot dead. She took the attack as a warning to all those involved in the murder investigation.
On 21 February this year, she announced the station was going off the air because of many threats to its staff. "Three of our people have already been killed and we don’t want to lose anyone else," she said. The radio’s journalists and technical staff wrote to the management on 1 February expressing their great concern about many incidents since the beginning of the year.
Montas said the station was only closing temporarily and would resume operations when the situation was more secure. "This will not happen while Judge Saint-Vil has not announced the end of his investigation," she told Reporters Without Borders.