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Unwavering dedication in the face of constant adversity

Statement by Pierre Esperance, Executive Director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH)

The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) reconfirms its mission to promote, protect and defend the fundamental human rights of all Haitians regardless of socio-economic status, political or religious affiliation, gender or sex. Through its persistent and rigorous condemnation of reported and documented human rights violations and through its efforts to contribute to the reform of key State institutions, RNDDH is striving towards the creation of a human rights culture in Haiti.

In a country such as Haiti, a society in the grip of impunity, corruption and violence, the need for objective and credible human rights organizations is essential: organizations whose work remains consistent during periods of political unrest and regime changes; organizations that respects the guiding principles of confidentiality, accuracy and impartiality.

In seeking justice and the establishment of the Rule of Law, RNDDH’s human rights monitoring activities seek to find and uncover the truth so that justice may prevail. Furthermore, RNDDH seeks reform and improvement in the functioning and professionalism of State institutions. This frightens many of the actors involved who profit from the state of impunity and corruption that Haitians continue to live under today.

One of RNDDH’s primary roles is and always has been to accompany the Haitian people in their quest for justice. Not aligned with any government, local or foreign, this role remains consistent regardless of the government in place, and especially in circumstances where human rights are being systematically and blatantly violated. Today, RNDDH is doing the same challenging work it did under the military government of the coup from 1991 – 1994, the same work that it did once constitutional order was returned in 1994 until 2000 and the same work it did during the three years of Jean Bertrand Aristide’s latest presidency, from 2001 – 2004. RNDDH did not turn a blind eye to the violent crimes perpetrated during the coup years nor did it turn away from responding to the systematic human rights violations committed under the previous Lavalas government.

Criticisms of the Current Interim Government

In the early days following its installation, the Boniface-Latortue government promised the Haitian people that one of its priorities would be to tackle the problem of impunity. For several months now, this has proved to be an empty promise, and RNDDH has been openly critical of the government’s lack of action. More than 3,000 prisoners were released from Haitian prisons across the country in the weeks prior to 29 February 2004, many of whom were serving time for crimes committed during the coup d’état. The majority of these prisoners still remain at large today as the government has not adopted any significant measures to ensure that they are re-apprehended and placed under state control. The non-guilty verdict in the Louis-Jodel Chamblain mockery of a trial in August 2004 only further solidified the growing belief that not only would this government not keep its promise to fight against impunity, but that it would continue to promote it with its actions.

RNDDH has also expressed its concern over the posting of high-ranking members of the former military to high-level positions within the current government and has been highly critical of the interim government’s lax attitude towards the ever-present threat posed by the united members of the former Haitian Armed Forces.

Lavalas lobbying campaign in North America against Haitian Human Rights Organizations

In recent weeks and months, a pro-Lavalas campaign has been taking root in Canada and the United States. Many of those aligned with the campaign do not clearly understand the complex reality in Haiti while many others fully understand yet continue to fuel the movement. Unfounded messages purporting subjective beliefs, presenting half truths as solid facts and sadly misrepresenting the situation in Haiti are being widely circulated as truth.

It is difficult to deny the increase in insecurity and indiscriminate violence within capital since the September 2004 launch of the self-proclaimed Lavalas movement in several of the densely populated neighborhoods pledging allegiance to former President Aristide and demanding his return. The groups behind the movement were the Lavalas government’s “henchmen” – paid and supplied with weapons to repress opposition to the government. The violence has left hundreds dead and wounded, homes and property damaged, and entire neighborhoods held hostage.

Despite difficult access to many of these neighborhoods, RNDDH has been able to establish contact with individuals living in these areas, as well as with victims and their families seeking assistance from the organization.

Assistance to Victims of Human Rights Violations

Contrary to charges that the organization only helps certain sectors of society, RNDDH’s office is open to any and all victims of violence and human rights violations and their families. This is demonstrated in the more than 1,000 individuals that sought help in 2004 alone, of which more than fifty percent were assisted in one form or another.

More than 300 individuals and/or families identified as being affiliated with the Lavalas party who were victims of violence have been assisted by RNDDH within the past four years. Assistance includes legal counsel, financial assistance, coverage of medical expenses, alternative housing arrangements and accompaniment at the level of the high-ranking police and judicial officials.

Some of the Lavalas cases RNDDH has treated have been very public cases such as the murder of Lavalas official, Cléonor Souverain (and four family members, including two of his children; one of his children was left permanently handicapped) in the Central Plateau, and the 20 March 2004 summary execution by Haitian National Police officers of five young men from La Saline (Port-au-Prince), known to be Lavalas supporters. RNDDH also publicly denounced and intervened in the arbitrary and illegal arrest of Maxon Guerrier, former mayor of Delmas which led to his eventual release, investigated and denounced the police brutality used by the police during the arrest of Lavalas activist Reverend Gérard Jean Juste and intervened in the case of musician Jean Renald Bruno (alias Tipaille), which resulted in his release from police custody. Other Lavalas victim cases – like most of RNDDH’s cases – have remained confidential, closed to the public at the request of the victims for various reasons, including security.

Furthermore, RNDDH has been concerned for some time now regarding the waves of arrests being carried out primarily in Lavalas strongholds such as Bel Air, Fort National, La Saline, and Cite Soleil. Since September 2004, RNDDH increased its number of delegations to several police stations within the metropolitan area in response to these arrests. General monitoring and specific investigations into the cases of those arrested has led to RNDDH’s public denunciations of the systematic violations of many of these individuals’ basic rights. In many of these cases, family members of those arrested have made their way to the RNDDH office to solicit help.

Examples of cases such as these are explained in RNDDH’s 3 Frebruary 2005 report entitled Continuing Climate of Violence and Insecurity, and Human Rights Violations of Individuals in Custody.

The La Sciere Massacre and the Incarceration of Former Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune

What took place in La Scierie (St. Marc) from 11 – 29 February 2004 has been identified as the biggest killing spree that took place under the Lavalas government (based on the information that RNDDH has gathered regarding number of individuals killed and/or disappeared, women raped, damage and destruction).

RNDDH also has sufficient reason to believe that it was planned at the highest levels of government. NCHR-Haiti/RNDDH began documenting the massacre immediately identifying victims and documenting the losses, and assisted victims and their family members to form a victims’ associate – AVIGES. RNDDH also provided legal counsel for the victims and provided material and financial aid. RNDDH is not one of the plaintiffs in the complaint filed with judicial authorities, and thus it is wrongly assumed that RNDDH is responsible for Mr. Neptune’s incarceration. Furthermore, no one on RNDDH’s staff is a practicing judge within the judicial system, so again, RNDDH is not responsible for his incarceration. RNDDH is sincerely concerned about Mr. Neptune’s current state of health. It is troubling to know that his health has deteriorated significantly and that potential serious problems could arise.

It is imperative that the Haitian government take the necessary measures as swiftly as possible to ensure that his condition does not deteriorate any further and that, on the contrary, his health can improve. A turn for the worse in the case of Mr. Neptune would be a senseless tragedy. In the case of Mr. Neptune, RNDDH has never accused him of being directly implicated in the La Scierie Massacre, nor has it ever accused him of murder.

As then Prime Minister and President of the Superior Council of the PNH, we believe that Mr. Neptune has information on and explanations to give regarding the massacre. For these reasons, RNDDH believes that Mr. Neptune – like all others – must respond to questions put before him by the Haitian Judiciary, more specifically by the judge assigned to the case. However, Mr. Neptune continually refuses to respond to the summons of the judge and appear before her to answer questions related to the incidents in La Scierie. He has been called four times thus far and each time he is summoned he has restarted the hunger strike.

Finally, prison authorities had to use force to take him to St. Marc to respond to the judge’s questions. Mr. Neptune resisted, biting a female prison guard on the arm and pushed another prison guard to the ground and assaulted two prison guards. This is a case for the Haitian judiciary and this is where RNDDH’s other concerns come into play. In its efforts to contribute to the establishment of the rule of law in Haiti, RNDDH has always demanded a clear separation of the three branches of power, highlighting the widely accepted principle for the need for an independent judiciary.

The Lavalas government under Aristide had little respect for this principle and blatantly used the Haitian Judiciary as a tool of manipulation and oppression. This is a generally accepted fact – internationally as well as domestically. Just as RNDDH condemned the Lavalas government’s manipulation and influence over the Judiciary, so, too, RNDDH must condemn similar actions committed by the interim government. To do otherwise would be hypocritical and partisan.

Decisions regarding Mr. Neptune’s case must be decided by the Haitian Judiciary. Unfortunately, the current state of the Haitian Judiciary is unacceptable. It is the role of the government to reform the judiciary, to reinforce its work and create conditions conducive to performing the tasks at hand. The interim government has done little, if anything, in terms of judicial reform. Haitian prisons are overflowing with individuals whose rights are being violated on a daily basis.

Cases are not being investigated by the appropriate judicial authorities and individuals are forced to remain in inhumane conditions in detention centers across the country. (Please refer to RNDDH’s various reports, most specifically its most recent report published on 3 February 2005.) Neptune’s case, like more than ninety percent (90%) of those in prison, is taking far too long to be dealt with and decided on. This, as in the case of all prisoners in the same situation, is completely unacceptable, and it remains the same situation as the one faced during the time that the Lavalas regime was in power.

An RNDDH delegation, granted special access accompanied by the Director of the Penitentiary Administration Authority (DAP), visited the new Penitentiary Annex on the morning of 27 April 2005. The purpose was to monitor the prisoner’s living conditions, the physical state of the building and the situation of individuals being detained there. We observed the detention of five individuals: Yvon Neptune, Amanus Amayette, Jackson Joanis, Louis Jodel Chamblain, and Jacques Mathélier. Unfortunately the delegation was unable to see Mr. Neptune as he was being consulted by a delegation of doctors from the International Red Cross.

However, the Director of DAP confided that Mr. Neptune’s health was extremely precarious. On 30 April, the government was prepared to make arrangements to evacuate Mr. Neptune to the Dominican Republic to receive medical treatment. Mr. Neptune refused to go unless the government dismissed all charges against him. As this was not one of the options being presented by the government, Mr. Neptune was never evacuated. It is RNDDH’s sincere hope that the government reacts swiftly and appropriately in ensuring that the Mr. Neptune’s situation does not worsen, taking the necessary measures to save his life.

Committment to the Struggle

As an organization engaged in the struggle for the protection and respect of the rights of all people, one of RNDDH’s concerns is the respect of the rights of those being detained in prison. We believe that pressure must be placed on the government to ensure that fundamental rights are respected throughout the country. RNDDH is disturbed that the greatest demand of the Haitian people – for justice – is being ignored by a government ruling in a country where murder, crime and human rights violations are commonplace.

RNDDH renews its commitment to the human rights struggle in Haiti and its dedication to witnessing the day when Haitian mothers no longer weep over their sons’ mutilated bodies trying to make sense of the senseless work of politically motivated police officers; when justice is not for sale, and murderers, drug dealers and rapists pay their debt to society; when those incarcerated in Haitian prisons are treated with the full respect and dignity that is owed them; and the day when all Haitians live in a culture of tolerance and human rights where those rights are known and are fully enjoyed by each and every Haitian.