Originally: Dear Colleague
The situation in Haiti continues to worsen at an alarming rate, with potentially disastrous consequences for both Haiti and the United States. Of particular concern is the complete lack of justice in the country. When I visited there in April, I found that the judicial system had all but collapsed, and what remains is merely a politicized shell.
I have drafted a letter to Secretary Rice (below) with a proposed solution, and I hope you will join me in signing it.
To sign on, please contact Cliff Stammerman or Dan Lopez in my office at 5-3111. Thank you.
William D. Delahunt
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Rice:
We are writing regarding a matter of the greatest urgency – the lack of justice in Haiti – and to propose a solution.
Madame Secretary, Haiti today is essentially a failed state. Most of its institutions exist in name only, and the state cannot fulfill even its most basic functions without international assistance. In fact, the recent report of the United Nations Security Council mission to Haiti noted that even the exact number of Haitian National Police officers “could not be established.” As the UNSC report noted, “In essence, the mission considered that a modern public administration did not yet exist in the country.”
Regarding the judicial system, the UNSC report concluded that it “remained dysfunctional” and “lacked basic infrastructure and had lost archival documents during periods of unrest.” These problems, the UNSC mission found, “had compounded the human rights situation…and negatively affected the reconciliation process.” As Stuart Holliday, the US Deputy Ambassador to the UN said recently, “the backlog of cases is such that most of those imprisoned and awaiting trial in Haiti have already been incarcerated for longer periods of time than if they had been tried and found guilty.”
Madame Secretary, the UNSC report was too polite. The fact is that the judicial system in Haiti is a sham. 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.
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.” And the interim Justice Minister, Bernard Gousse, has focused on cracking down on Aristide’s followers, not on arresting and prosecuting the participants in the rebellion – even though they murdered police officers and emptied the country’s jails in the process.
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.
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.
Madame Secretary, it is obvious that there will be no justice in Haiti under this current government. Dramatic and effective steps are needed – because without a functioning judicial system, Haiti will remain unstable. And that instability is a direct threat to the United States. Since the Haitian government will not address the situation, and because the UN cannot act in Haiti without US support, it is up to the US to take the lead.
Another compelling reason to act is the effect this situation is having on our own reputation as a leader for democracy and human rights. The fact is that the Haitian interim government is widely perceived as a US puppet regime. So its failings are seen as our failings. Given the already negative US image in Latin America, where a Zogby poll found that 87 percent of the region’s elite have a negative opinion of President Bush, we must act immediately to prevent our credibility from being diminished further.
First, it is obvious that interim Justice Minister Gousse must be removed immediately. He has clearly demonstrated that he is unwilling to conduct his duties in an objective and responsible manner. His continued presence in the government eliminates any chance that elections planned for later this year will be free and fair. Put simply, both his attitude and his actions have actually increased Haiti’s instability and have guaranteed that Haiti will remain volatile even after the elections. This is a direct challenge to US interests.
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.
If these steps are not taken, Haitians will continue to suffer from a lack of justice. Haiti will continue to be a failed state. And U.S. Marines will eventually have to return to Haiti. We urge you to take these steps, and look forward to your prompt written response.