May 2, 2005

In an interview with the head of the UN mission in Haiti, Juan Gabriel Valdes, yesterday afternoon, we asked him why the international community, or rather the United Nations, is involved in the case of former prime minister Yvon Neptune. This is what Ambassador Valdes had to say about the issue:

Well, I believe we have followed the Neptune case closely. But we got involved in it solely for humanitarian reasons. It is the hunger strike that he has been on twice now that has caused us to be concerned about his health. I mean that we hail the humanitarian attitude of the government, of Prime Minister Latortue and President Boniface Alexandre. We believe they have handled the situation with both firmness and honesty, because there are humanitarian values that should be respected.

It is unfortunate that this opportunity, this situation to simply help somebody who is in a delicate situation, was not understood by the person in question. We think it is clear that?and we have already said so?Neptune is in the hands of the Haitian judicial authorities and it is the Haitian authorities who have the responsibility to deal with the case as quickly as possible.

I should also say that we have on many occasions expressed concern about the length of time the case is taking and at the fact that, all this time, Neptune was either unable or did not want to, or the case could not be heard in a normal way. Because up to now, he has not yet appeared before a judge. But it is clear that what has happened now, the situation that occurred, is the result of the appreciation of the humanitarian aspect of Neptune’s situation and that it is not a verdict on his situation as a suspect.

The courts must be reformed

Francois: Is there pressure from the international community to convince Neptune to leave the country, to get him to go to another country for medical care? And did the international community really put pressure on the government to get the authorities to come to this decision, which Neptune did not take advantage of, by the way?

Valdes: I can only speak on behalf of the United Nations. I can say that, from the point of view of the mandate that the MINUSTAH has in this country, we have to respect and support the decisions of the Haitian government and support the institutions. The only reason why we had to discuss this issue on two occasions with the government, as I said, it was in regard to Neptune’s extremely delicate health as a result of his hunger strike. We also talked to Neptune and asked him to stop the hunger strike. We even encouraged him to declare his innocence to the judge, since that is what he is defending. But we think that the only opinion that we can express from this point of view is an opinion of support for a decision that was motivated, a decision of the government that was motivated by a humanitarian appreciation. We believe that the government cannot exceed its limit due to the fact that Neptune is in the hands of the Haitian judicial authorities and that the judicial authorities are in charge of the case.

At the same time, we deplore the slowness of the judicial proceedings in this country. The Security Council made a declaration in this respect. We notice that there are a lot of people in detention who have not managed to appear in court. I believe that the reform of the courts is a matter of concern for the government and for us, too. The international community sees it as an aspect for which all of us should make efforts. At the same time, we think it could be useful to appoint an international judge who could work with the local courts to study the human rights cases and the country’s major cases to make progress in these cases so that this situation does not continue without a definite solution.

Our role is to support the government

Francois: To clarify, you do not support Neptune’s request for the examining judge in Saint-Marc to drop the case. So, what is going to happen now, Mr Valdes? At the level of the international community are you going to convince Neptune to stop the hunger strike?

Valdes: I believe that there are matters that are entirely the concern of Haiti as a sovereign country. We are in the presence of a judicial case and there is a judicial system. Now, the judicial system may be criticized for a lot of reasons, but there is a government that we have to support. There is a state and institutions that we have to support and help. From this point of view, it is clear that we are not going to express any opinions about internal procedures unless the Haitian authorities ask us to do so.

An international human rights official visited the country recently. Louis Joinet was here. He published a report and the prime minister has a copy of it. We believe that beyond this, the international community, the United Nations cannot intervene. Our only concern is that in a situation in which Neptune’s health condition is aggravated, he can receive all the necessary medical care. We will certainly follow this situation with concern and interest.

The international community’s concern is purely humanitarian

Francois: Concerning the Neptune case, there are sectors that think the international community is always talking about the reinforcement of the Haitian judicial system. And in the Neptune case, people think that the international community is taking the wrong direction, insofar as the international community is supporting illegal decisions relating to the Neptune case.

Valdes] That is not the case for the United Nations. We have never asked for the authority of the executive branch or the judicial power to be transcended. The only thing we insisted on is the need to give the doctors a chance to intervene at the appropriate time if his medical condition worsens. We do not want to have an irreversible or irreparable situation that could create a false impression of what the government is doing. But I insist that the only motivation that the international community had and will continue to have is a humanitarian concern in this case. Because we believe that the government has some responsibility in the Neptune case, and the judicial authorities are in charge of the case. So, we think that the solution that the government had to explore last night is valuable and we support this decision. Unfortunately, this decision was not part of the conditions set by Neptune in order for him to get the appropriate medical care.

The judicial system must be modernized

Francois: We see that everybody is showing concern about Yvon Neptune. Why do they not do so for other prisoners, too? Why do people insist so much on the Neptune case, while there are other prisoners who are undergoing other difficult situations?

Valdes: I believe that there is a general situation, as I said, that there is a need to speed up the legal procedures, to have a judicial system that can really respond to the requirements of the law. I believe that, as I said before, the need to reform, to modernize the judicial system is the essential question. The system cannot function if the police cannot do their job, if the people who are arrested cannot appear in court and if the judge cannot give a ruling. We have talked to the president of the republic, who was very eloquent in expressing his willingness to review the codes, but also the necessity to see the manner in which the judicial system is organized.

Your other question concerns the international community. It is clear that Neptune had played a role in the transitional process in the country. This role was considered a positive role from the point of view that he facilitated a transition to a provisional government that should lead the county into elections so that a legitimate government can take power as of next year.

I believe that this explains the interest of the international community in the Neptune case. And this is the reason why we continue to accept questions that people ask us, as representatives of the United Nations. We continue to receive questions from a lot of countries and authorities of foreign countries who want to know about this case. They have a particular interest in the Neptune case and I believe this will continue.