Text of Delahunt letter | Text of Haiti Democracy Project reply

What few trappings of the system that remain have been completely politicized by the so-called interim government of Haiti and turned into an instrument of repression. 

This is grossly exaggerated. The judicial system has been essentially dysfunctional for decades. The interim government has done little to improve it, but has not politicized it either. It is not “so-called” interim, its leading members do really intend to leave on February 7, 2006.

Although the unelected interim government was supposed to be composed of non-political technocrats, it has proved itself to be as fiercely partisan as previous Haitian regimes.   The interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, described the gang members, ex-soldiers, and terrorists who helped overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as “freedom fighters.”

This statement is itself partisan. The interim government is “unelected,” but was put together by as inclusive a process as was possible under the circumstances. It is not “fiercely partisan;” this is an exaggeration. It is largely ineffective, inherited much corruption, and has cleaned up little of it. The government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was not “democratically elected;” those elections were largely fraudulent. His government was mainly ousted by a civic movement, but that movement was unarmed, and it was his own gang members who turned against him, plus ex-soldiers who capitalized on the occasion, who finally scared him out of there. The Haitians saw them as liberators all the way. As I said at the Inter-American Dialogue, they did free Haiti and they did fight, so whether they are “freedom fighters” is a matter of semantics. Latortue is not to be taxed for this statement, which merely recorded one aspect of the absolute mess Haiti was in when he came on the job.

The most recent example of the justice system’s politicization was the annulment by the Haitian Supreme Court of the convictions of several participants in the infamous Raboteau massacre in 1994.  These men – many of them members of the feared paramilitary group known as FRAPH (the French acronym for the Revolutionary Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti) – had been convicted in a trial that the UN Independent Expert on Haiti, Adama Dieng, described as “a huge step forward” in the history of Haiti’s judicial system, because of its thoroughness, transparency, and fairness. But FRAPH’s notorious second-in-command, Louis-Jodel Chamblain – who was convicted in absentia for the Raboteau massacre – played a role in last year’s ousting of Aristide. 
So it appears that the recent Supreme Court decision was a reflection of political bias.  This is reinforced by the earlier decision to acquit Chamblain of the 1993 murder of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery in a one-day retrial that was denounced worldwide as a sham. 

I share the negative evaluation of the judicial system, but I have seen no evidence, and am not convinced, that Prime Minister Latortue or justice minister Bernard Gousse engineered these decisions from behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, members of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party have been arrested and held without seeing a judge on often questionable charges.  The most high-profile case is that of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who has been imprisoned without trial for almost 10 months, and who reportedly appeared before a judge on May 25, 2005 – even though the Haitian constitution requires that a suspect see a judge within 48 hours.  The interim government had claimed the delay was because Neptune would not see a judge.  This is a strange and dubious argument, given that the man is a prisoner and could have been forced to appear in court at any time, or a magistrate could have visited him in a secure environment to discharge any procedural requirements.

Virtually no detainees in Haiti have seen a judge, and so Neptune’s appearance finally before one in St. Marc was a sign that the system might be sputtering into life. The regime is not totally wrong in claiming Neptune was being obstructionist. Click here to see the bite he took out of the policewoman’s arm who tried to lead him to court.

Second, it is clear that the Haitian judicial system does not exist beyond a politicized shell.  Therefore, the international community – either through the UN, the Organization of American States, or the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – must assume the administration of justice in Haiti until a real judicial system can be established.  This initiative must be accompanied by a deep and sustained commitment by the international community to rebuilding and reforming the Haitian judicial system.  We ask that you consider making this request to an emergency session of the UN Security Council or some other relevant multilateral organization.

The Neptune case, as well as the other issues of the dysfunctional judicial system, do make a case for heavy international aid to the judiciary including francophone judges to advise closely. Whether they should supplant or overrule Haitian judges is a bit dicier. Such special tribunals are explicitly outlawed in their constitution, and as soon as Haitian jurisdiction resumed, their results would be declared invalid. More to the point, there were grounds for holding Neptune; the delays were not all their fault; the system may be starting to work now, I don’t know.

Most governmental institutions in Haiti would benefit from being taken over by foreigners. However, the U.N. resolutions posit the support, not supplanting, of Haitian structures. To go beyond this to occupying Haiti is another debate. I do not believe Representative Delahunt has made a credible case for it in this letter. It is way too partisan and I strongly advise against signing it.