Originally: Persecution against Human Rights Defenders in Haiti
As soon as the news surfaced of a special criminal trial session in which the case against Louis Jodel Chamblain and Jackson Joanis in the murder of Antoine Izmery would be heard, Haitian human rights organizations began to raise its concerns. In a press release published on 12 August 2004, NCHR warned against a mockery of justice and expressed its extreme concern regarding rumors that a compromise had been made between the interim government and the former rebels in order to exonerate Chamblain.
Chamblain is the number 2 leader of the Front pour l’Avancement et le Progrès d’Haïti (FRAPH) – a paramilitary organization that terrorized the country during the coup d’état years of 1991-1994. Extra-judicial executions, rape, torture were commonplace, and bloody massacres were committed against Haitian citizens opposed to the coup. Antoine Izmery, a prominent business man, fervent support of then-exiled President Aristide and vocal opponent to the coup, was dragged from a church and executed in broad daylight on 11 September 1993. FRAPH is believed to be responsible for the murder. FRAPH is also responsible for the 22 April 1994 massacre in Raboteau – for which Chamblain was found guilty for his participation in the massacre and sentence in absentia in 2000.
His name resurfaced in the early days of 2004 as armed rebels mobilized against the Lavalas government and President Aristide, as Chamblain took a leading position within the movement which resulted in the resignation of the President on 29 February 2004. Despite reluctance on the interim government to act, Chamblain turned himself over to Haitian authorities in April 2004 following negotiations with the government officials, and significant pressure from local and international human rights organizations.
Thus, the jury’s not guilty verdict in the 16 August 2004 trial did not come as much of a surprise as human rights defenders and civil society had all but predicted it.
Campaign of Persecution against Human Rights Defenders
NCHR, other human rights organizations, and those striving for the establishment of the Rule of Law immediately criticized the entire trial – from the hurried preparation, to the lack of material evidence and witnesses, to the final outcome. International reaction to the verdict was much the same. Only the government and the defense team of Chamblain and Joanis expressed its contentment with the process. The Minister of Justice himself, in a declaration to the press, expressed his satisfaction with the trial while scoffing at and speaking strongly against human rights activists and their misgivings.
Thus began the apparent persecution campaign against Haitian human rights defenders.
According to NCHR sources, on 25 August 2004, a meeting was held at the Ministry of Justice with Chamblain/Joanis’ lawyers and some members of the jury that heard and ruled on the trial, and the Minister of Justice. The agenda for the meeting : an attack against local human rights organizations and their staff. That same afternoon, Chamblain/Joanis’ lawyers held a press conference to communicate their approval of the trial outcome and to announce the prosecution of several Haitian human rights advocates and their respective organizations by three (3) members of the Chamblain-Joanis jury.
NCHR, the Comité des Avocats pour le Respect des Libertés Individuelles (CARLI) and the Plate-forme des Organisations Haïtiennes des Droits Humains (POHDH), (more specifically Vilès Alizar, Renan Hedouville, and Elifaite Saint-Pierre, respectively) are being charge with slander and defamation following allegations that these human rights organizations declared that at least one member of the said jury had FRAPH connections.
On 26 August 2004, NCHR received a citation of the charges against the human rights organizations, and on 30 August 2004 a ruling by the Chief Justice Lebrun rendered a decision to have the case heard in Correctional Court on 1 September 2004, at 10:00am.
On 31 August 2004, the lawyers for the defense filed an appeal with the Appellate Court, contesting the decision of the Chief Justice to hold a hearing at this time. Judicial activities are on hold as the courts are close for a pre-determined amount of time for annual holidays. Hearings are not organized for this period, expect in special cases (e.g. if the accused is in detention in a prison facility and the preparation of the case has been completed ; if the case deals with renter-landlord disputes ; work-related cases and/or cases involving the recuperation of monies owed). The case against NCHR, CARLI and POHDH does not qualify for the organization of a special hearing.
Thus, according to the law, this hearing is illegal and arbitrary.
Hearing in the Correctional Court of Port-au-Prince
At the hearing on 1 September 2004, Justice Luc Hibraïm presided over the hearing, attended by the Council for the Defense and the Council for the Plaintiffs and two (2) representatives from the State Prosecutor’s Office. The Council for the Defense opened the session by re-iterating its appeal of the decision to hold a special hearing at this time. The Council for the Plaintiffs read for the court the citation of charges against the individuals and their respective organizations, as written in the official citation document of 26 August 2004. Having heard positions from both parties, the State Prosecutor’s Office representative read from both the citation of charges laid by the plaintiffs, as well as the appeal filed by the defense, after which he concluded that the hearing in fact goes against what the law dictates and thus is to be considered illegal.
Judge Hibraïm, however, disagreed with the State Prosecutor’s representative and rejected the defenses request, and contented that he believes he is competent to continue hearing the case. Upon hearing this, the Council for the Defense decided to leave the courthouse, re-asserting that the hearing is illegal as an appeal is pending with the Appellate Court. The hearing continued without representation of the defense and a decision was made by default. The hearing is to resume on Friday, 3 September 2004, at 10:00am, and Mr. Alizar, Mr. Hedouville, and Mr. Saint-Pierre were advised to be present.
Additional accusations against NCHR Director
On 1 September 2004, NCHR received a second subpoena, this time against NCHR director, Pierre Esperance, regarding a sentence contained in NCHR’s most recent report entitled “The First Criminal Trials in the Post-Aristide Era Stirs Up Indignation”. Chief Justice Jean Joseph Lebrun – the same judge that authorized the scandalous organization of the Chamblain-Joanis trial and who selected the Judge to preside over the current case against NCHR, CARLI, and POHDH – has required the presence of Mr. Esperance in his chambers in view of explaining the contents of the said report. The Chief Justice also added, without judicial authority, that should the NCHR director fail to appear, the he will have him arrested. The line in question refers to the apparent submissiveness of the Chief Justice to the Executive, much like that which was of what was experienced under the Lavalas government.
Continued Manipulation of the Judiciary by the Haitian Government
The allegations against NCHR, CARLI, and POHDH are completely unfounded. To be sure, NCHR did states its preoccupation concerning the alleged FRAPH connections of at least one (1) member of the Chamblain-Joanis jury. However, no names were ever identified or mentioned.
Furthermore, the fact that the Judge presiding over the case, Justice Luc Hibraïm, was recently transferred to Port-au-Prince and immediately assigned this dossier and that the hearing has been scheduled illegally during a period of judiciary holidays, points to the fact that the latest turn of events is the beginning of a well-planned, well-thought out campaign of the present government to persecute and intimidate human rights defenders in Haiti.