OUR CARIBBEAN : What justice Mr Latortue?
20 août 2004
WHILE SOME Caribbean Community leaders continue to disagree on the modalities and timing for collective "full engagement" with the Haitian regime of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, human rights organisations are expressing outrage at the sheer mockery of justice under the United States-backed interim administration in Port-au-Prince.
With Yvon Neptune, Prime Minister in the administration of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide, being held in prison on murder allegations, and other leading elements of the former ruling Lavalas Party forced into hiding, a notorious former paramilitary leader and his accomplice were stunningly freed of murder charges on Monday night by a court held in secret.
Freed of killing Antoine Izmery, former Justice Minister and businessman colleague of Aristi
de, were Louis-Jodel Chamblain, former leader of the paramilitary group FRAPH (Front for Advancement and Progress of Haiti), and co-defendant Jackson Joanis, a former Port-au-Prince police chief.
Both were aggressively involved in violence against supporters of Aristide following the 1991 coup against the first Lavalas government.
FRAPH, which was subsequently exposed as receiving assistance from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, had acquired notoriety for its killings, violence, torture and campaign of intimidation against supporters of Aristide during the then military regime.
Within 24 hours and with just one of eight summoned witnesses appearing, a jury met in a secret trial and delivered swift justice in favour of Chamblain and Jackson.
"It's an outrage," declared Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, known for its independence and fortrightness. McCalla, who has had a meeting with former Prime Minister Neptune - t
he man CARICOM seems to have conveniently forgotten in its current wranglings over "engagement" with interim Prime Minister Latortue - recalled a chilling published remark by current Justice Minister Bernard Gousse : "Chamblain", Gousse had said, "might benefit from government pardon for any convictions because of his great services to the nation." That was in reference to the role Chamblain and others had played in getting rid of Aristide and his Lavalas party from power.
On reflection, it could be said that Gousse was echoing a sentiment similar to that of Latortue when he embraced armed criminals and murder fugitives as "freedom fighters" in the wake of the violence and chaos that forced Aristide from power on February 29.
In McCalla's reckoning, "Minister Gousse has demonstrated that he is politically compromised and unqualified to lead Haiti's judicial reform efforts. He has abused the trust placed in him and should resign, for neither democracy, respect for human rights nor the rule of
law can rise on the basis of such impunity".
For Amnesty International, the controversial court proceeding and swift justice marked a "very sad day in the history of Haiti . . . " It was "a mockery" and the Latortue regime had "failed to ensure justice and show its willingness to tackle impunity".
Those in CARICOM keen on "full enagement" with the Latortue regime should take note and find time to also raise a voice for justice in cases such as that of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, now a prisoner, having surrendered to the authorities out of fear of those hunting him. This situation makes it all the more difficult to offer Latortue a seat at a CARICOM meeting, as distinct from any bilateral relations, which is the right of any member state.
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