NCHR calls for the establishment of a special court.
The government of Haiti has announced that rebel commander Louis Jodel Chamblain and former Haitian army captain Jackson Joanis will be among those put on trial next week. Mr. Chamblain and Joanis were both convicted in absentia for the murder of Antoine Izmery, a close associate of then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was dragged from a church service and assassinated in 1993. At the time of the murder, Mr. Chamblain led the Front pour l?Avancement et le Progres d? Haiti (FRAPH), a paramilitary organization that used violence, intimidation and murder to support military rule and oppose Haitian and international efforts to reverse the military coup d?Etat and restore Aristide to the presidency. Capt. Joanis was then in charge of the Port-au-Prince Police Station.
?The trial will be nothing but a travesty of justice,? said Mr. Jocelyn McCalla, executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) in NY. He added: ?The trial is scheduled at a time when Haitians will turn almost all their attention to a good will soccer match between Brazil?s national team ? the top in the world ? and Haiti?s. It would not be surprising to see Chamblain and Joanis walk out of the courtroom just in time for the game. We urge the government of Haiti and the courts to exclude the Izmery case from those to be decided and to instead, in partnership with the UN and the international community, establish a special court modeled on the one formed in Sierra Leone to prosecute human rights crimes. Otherwise, the government will be complicit in once again denying the Izmerys and the people of Haiti the justice that they rightly seek.?
Haiti?s judicial system is in shambles. Several tribunals and court records were trashed and destroyed in the wake of the armed insurrection earlier this year. Judges are generally corrupt, ill-trained and ill-equipped to preside over crimes that demand rigor, authority, fairness and a keen knowledge of criminal law. Most informed observers agree that it will take months before an adequate judicial system is built in Haiti.
Meanwhile, many of the rebel units which Mr. Chamblain commanded this year have refused to disarm. They have demanded the immediate reinstatement of the Haitian army and threatened international peacekeepers should disarmament be attempted. It is likely that they will turn out in large numbers at the court hearing intimidating the judge, the prosecutors and any potential witnesses. It is also unlikely that government prosecutors will make use of potential evidence that could be among the thousands of documents (known as the FRAPH documents) that the government has in its possession. A query about the fate of these documents drew a blank stare from Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse when he met with Mr. McCalla in mid-July.
Sierra Leone established a hybrid court with a limited mandate and a limited lifetime to deal with human rights crimes because its court system, like Haiti?s, could not handle the politically sensitive trials. The hybrid court is composed of national and international judges, national and international prosecutors, and assures adequate defense of the defendants if they lack the means to defend themselves. More importantly it shields the court from undue political influence and assures the people that justice will be scrupulously sought.
?Haiti needs such a tribunal to guarantee vigorous prosecution and fair trials in several other prominent cases,? said Mr. McCalla. ?These include the prosecution of individuals charged and allegedly involved in prominent human rights crimes, including not only the murder of Izmery, but the murders of Justice Minister Guy Malary (1993), Jean Leopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint (2000), inhabitants of La Scierie (2004), etc.?
?Earlier this year, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue hailed Chamblain and his acolytes as freedom fighters. He was widely condemned for associating with persons his allies and most of the people of Haiti consider thugs. Exonerating Chamblain and Joanis from Izmery?s assassination through a quickie trial will put yet another nail in the coffin of justice and will seriously undermine efforts with other prominent trials.?
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