Originally: Haitian justice minister says Neptune’s demand for release unacceptable

Telephone interview with Haitian Justice Minister Bernard Gousse by announcer Rotchild Francois, Jr, broadcast by Haitian Metropole radio on March 7.

(Francois) Now we have Justice Minister Bernard Gousse, who is going to tell us about the central prison issue. Good morning, Mr Gousse.

(Gousse) Good morning, Rotchild and all Radio Metropole listeners.

(Francois) The news is still dominated by former Lavalas Prime Minister Yvon Neptune’s hunger strike at the National Penitentiary Administration, Apena, to demand his release and to draw attention to the conditions he is being held in.

The first question I would like to ask you this morning is that we have learned that the soldiers of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Minustah, are in charge of Neptune’s security in jail. Can you confirm this information for us? And can you tell us if this is legal?

(Gousse) It is true that Neptune has gone on a hunger strike to demand his release without parole, but the government cannot grant such a demand, because Neptune was put in prison by a judicial decision while the judicial investigation is under way.

He went on strike supposedly to protest at the conditions of his detention, but I can tell you that Neptune is one of the detainees that are better cared for at the National Penitentiary. He is in a private cell and has books to read. He should be the last person to complain about detention conditions.

Now to answer your question about the Minustah presence in the prison, I can tell you that Minustah is not in charge of security at the prison. This is still the responsibility of the Apena administration, which is part of the National Police.

Over the past weekend, while his condition was deteriorating and it was thought possible to have him hospitalized in a secure environment, the Minustah commander had offered help in this sense. But it is not true that Minustah is providing security for Neptune and Jocelerme Privert.

(Francois) So, now it is clear that it is not Minustah that is assuring their safety in the jail.

(Gousse) It is the jail management that is in charge of security at the prison as a whole, including Neptune’s.

(Francois) Are there Minustah soldiers inside the jail?

(Gousse) This was not requested because of Neptune, but because of what happened two weeks ago (a jail break). As you know, the National Police is in the process of reviewing the security situation inside the National Penitentiary. A lot of prison agents have been put in isolation.

In fact, some of the guards who were on duty at the time actually gave two firearms to the fugitives during the breakout. The security of the prison as a whole is being dealt with. This has nothing to do with Neptune in particular.

(Francois) Minister Gousse, are there indeed efforts at the international level to secure the early release of former head of government Neptune?

(Gousse) Well, this is in fact what Neptune is asking for. He wants to be released without parole. He does not want to go to court; he does not want his case to be heard.

But this request is unacceptable whether it is from Neptune himself or from other people. I can assure you that I have never received a request from any foreign embassy asking for Neptune’s release. Such a request, if we do receive it, will not be welcome, because it is the court that ordered Neptune to be put in jail, not the government.

So, only the court can authorize his release. And in order for this to be done, a hearing will have to take place, and the court will then decide whether or not he is guilty. If he is found not guilty, then he will be released. But it is not the duty of the government to decide about his release just because he decided to go on a hunger strike.

Otherwise, Mr Francois, it would not be necessary to have jails, because then a detainee would only have to put himself in a delicate situation vis-a-vis his health and then ask for his release. And in Neptune’s case, it is a hunger strike.

(Francois) So, according to you, there has not been any formal demand on the part of the international community for Neptune’s release or for him to be transferred to a medical centre in another country?

(Gousse) There has not been any request for his liberation without parole. With regard to his transfer to a medical centre, I can say that the government complies with the ethical principles that govern the detention of prisoners and those who are on hunger strikes in particular.

And in this case, the principles are very clear. They are defined by the International Medical Association, as well as UN principles on matters regarding prison administration.

It should be pointed out that the physician of the penitentiary administration visits Neptune twice a day – every day. The International Red Cross doctor also visits him regularly. At each visit, they inform him about the state of his health and the risks that he is taking if he persists in his decision.

Now, can we force him to eat, to take medicine? The answer is no, because as long as the detainee clearly expresses his refusal to feed himself, then nobody can force him to do so. And this is in accordance with the prison administration code of ethics. If he refuses to eat, then he cannot be forced to do so.

So, there is the freedom of the individual that relates to other principles of all medical acts. A medical act should receive the consent of the beneficiary. So far, this is not the case. Neptune categorically refuses to receive care, and he does so consciously.

However, in cases of emergency, the necessity to preserve somebody’s life might cause a doctor to take action. So, this is why it was being envisaged for Neptune to be taken to a medical centre in Haiti last weekend.

He would still be under the control of the judicial authorities, of course. It would not be a release for humanitarian reasons. (passage omitted)

(Francois) Would the government then be willing to consider a demand for Neptune to be released on bail or for him to be sent to another country for humanitarian reasons?

(Gousse) As I said before, it is not the duty of the government to make judicial decisions. Instead, it is the responsibility of the examining judge to make such decisions based on the medical reports that are presented to him.

But there is another thing that should be understood, and it is the fact that Neptune is very clear in his determination not to be fed by force and not to be hospitalized.

So, we have to follow the principles of the penitentiary administration and respect his wishes. The doctors are watching him very closely, and at the least sign of failing health, they will take emergency measures. But as for release without parole, this is not on the agenda for the time being.

It is the duty of the examining judge to order his release for humanitarian reasons. He would still be in detention, of course, but he would be sent to a medical centre for treatment.

(Francois) Would the government be willing to give in to international pressure to let Neptune go to another country? Would the government be willing to sign such a request?

(Francois) As I said before, the government cannot replace the judicial authorities. Neptune cannot receive orders from the government. The judicial authorities are the only ones that can give him orders.

The government cannot replace the judicial authorities, nor make a decision about his release. For the moment, he can only be taken to a medical centre here to receive treatment, if necessary. The issue concerning his transfer to another country has not been put forward. (passage omitted)

(Gousse) Arrangements were made by Neptune to appear in court in Saint-Marc. Then he began his hunger strike, which prevented the case from being heard due to the fact that he was too weak to stand trial. But for the moment, the Saint-Marc jurisdiction can hear the case. Until the Court of Cassation decides otherwise, of course.