Four years after the murder of journalist Jean Dominique, Reporters Without Borders has written to Haiti’s new prime minister, Gérard Latortue, to ask him to put an end to impunity in this case.
"The many obstacles in the investigation into the murder of Radio Haïti Inter’s director and its caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissaint, exposed the nature of a regime which put impunity at the centre of its strategy for silencing its detractors," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in his letter. Those who attacked or killed journalists critical of the government were never punished, he said.
"The time has come to make a clean break with impunity," Ménard continued. "As Jean Dominique’s murder was the one that most marked Haitian society in recent years, the resolution of this case will be the sign that the Aristide era is over, that Haitian justice is again beginning to work and that the rule of law is in the process of being restored," he wrote.
The recent execution of two arrest warrants against suspects was an initial, hopeful sign, he said, but more remained to be done: the supreme court must rule on an appeal so that a new investigating judge can be named and the police must find the defendants who escaped from the national penitentiary.
"As well as the peace and comfort this would bring to Jean Dominique’s family, the end of impunity in this case would be a landmark in the establishment of real press freedom in Haiti," the letter concluded.
An investigation fraught with pitfalls
Haiti’s most famous journalist and political analyst, Dominique was gunned down in the courtyard of his radio station, Radio Haïti Inter, on 3 April 2000. Louissaint, the station’s caretaker, was killed in the same attack.
Virtually all of the state’s institutions helped to obstruct the investigation for nearly four years: the police failed to execute arrests warrants; two witnesses died in suspicious circumstances after their arrest; the senate refused to lift a senator’s immunity; President Aristide refused to renew the mandate of the investigating judge in charge of the case; an attempt was made to murder Michèle Montas, Dominique’s widow; and threats were made against Radio Haïti Inter forcing it to close.
The investigation concluded on 21 March 2003 when the new investigating judge issued his final report together with the list of persons indicted for the murder. Six alleged perpetrators already under arrest were indicted but no instigator was identified. Both Dominique’s widow and the defendants appealed against the investigating judge’s conclusions.
The Port-au-Prince appeal court on 4 August 2003 ordered a new judicial investigation and the release of three of the six people who had been indicted. The other three then filed an appeal before the court of cassation (supreme court). This court has not issued any ruling and the case is paralysed. Meanwhile, the three defendants who were still in detention have escaped.
Two and half weeks ago, on 14 March, the police arrested former Port-au-Prince deputy mayor Harold Sévère and Roustide "Douze" Pétion for their presumed involvement in the murders of Dominque and Louissant. Sévère had been indicted on 28 January 2003.