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Travesty of justice in Haiti
By Jessica Leight
Updated Sep 9, 2004, 12:05 am
(FinalCall.com) - Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who is one of several Haitian expatriates from gated communities in Boca Raton, is now running a country as if it was a game of Monopoly.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell created the fiction earlier this year that the Latortue regime was legitimate. Since then, the Haitian government has transgressed without any outside authority monitoring its daily excesses.
The elaborate rhetoric about a "transitional government" of "nonpartisan technocrats" that Washington spoke about should not be allowed to obscure the reality of what is properly deemed the 33 coup in Haitian history and the second to be perpetrated against Mr. Aristide in a decade.
On August 17, the wretched caricature of good government—which translate
s into the self-indulgence and injustice that Haiti has experienced since its democratically elected president was forced out of office February 29—reached new heights of degradation when Louis-Jodel Chamblain, one of the country's most notorious and murderous gangsters, as well as a leader of the armed rebellion against exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was summarily acquitted of his crimes in a hoax of a trial.
Mr. Chamblain, formerly the cofounder and chief of operations of the CIA-supported paramilitary group FRAPH (Front Révolutionnaire pour l'Avancement et le Progrés Hatiens), who was responsible for the torture and death of more than 3,000 Aristide supporters and who controlled the military regime that ruled Haiti from 1991 to 1994, was convicted in absentia in 1995 for the 1993 murder of Aristide financier and businessman Antoine Izmery.
But under Haitian law, he was entitled to a new trial after surrendering himself to authorities. Human rights advocates had hoped that the trial
would provide an opportunity not only to finally place him behind bars for his earlier crimes, but also to examine his complicity in alleged human rights abuses committed during this year's armed rebellion.
The silk glove treatment, however, proved to be only the latest and most shocking evidence of both the totally illegitimate Latortue regime's bizarre rule and the outlandish behavior of a number of ethical renegades, such as Minister of Justice Gousse.
The Izmery murder has been one of the cases most emblematic of the reign of terror imposed by the military government and FRAPH during their three-year regime.
Izmery, a leader of the pro-Aristide forces that mounted a resistance to the military government after the September 2001 coup, was dragged out of the church where he was attending a memorial service for his brother, an earlier victim of government repression, and shot dead in the street by soldiers and paramilitaries; the church has since become a holy site of pilgrimage for Aris
As a leader of FRAPH, Mr. Chamblain—a former member of the Haitian military whose history as a violent persecutor of Aristide's Lavalas movement stretched back to the final years of the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier in the 1980s—bore clear complicity for the murder.
Subsequently, he fled into exile in the Dominican Republic when the Aristide government was restored by U.S. troops in 1994. The following year, he was convicted in a Haitian court for the Izmery murder, as well as for his role in the 1994 massacre of Aristide supporters in the Gonaives slum of Raboteau.
Following 10 years of exile, Mr. Chamblain returned to Haiti in February of this year as one of the leaders of the armed rebellion that eventually forced Aristide into exile once again. Once in Haiti, he lived openly for months without even the feeblest of attempts to apprehend him by the interim government, which was installed by Washington in a blatantly unconstitutional procedure after the abrupt and
U.S.-coerced departure of President Aristide.
As international outcry increased over his continued liberty, Mr. Chamblain turned himself in to judicial authorities on April 22 in an elaborate charade of self-sacrifice, declaring that he would surrender his freedom in order that "Haiti can have a chance at the real democracy I have been fighting for."
In doing this, he was accompanied by Justice Minister Gousse, who extravagantly praised the decision and called it "a good and noble one," while neglecting to address the question of why the government had allowed this convicted murderer to remain at large for so long.
Mr. Chamblain's codefendant in the trial, Jackson Joanis, a former police chief in Port-au-Prince, surrendered to authorities on August 9. Their hurried trial was informally announced by the authorities on August 12, three business days before it began, violating several notice requirements contained in the Haitian procedural code.
Though few observers and journalists w
ere present for the verdict itself, due to security concerns regarding nighttime travel, announcement of the acquittal provoked immediate international protests.
Amnesty International called the trial a "mockery," while a spokesman for the State Department said, "We deeply regret the haste with which their cases were brought to retrial, resulting in procedural deficiencies that call into question the integrity of the process."
A spokesman for the National Coalition of Haitian Rights told the AP that only one witness for the prosecution appeared in court, though the witness did not see the murder and or even claim to know anything about the case.
Currently, both defendants remain in jail awaiting further trials on other charges. Chamblain is still entitled to a retrial for his second in absentia conviction in the case of the Raboteau massacre. However, there seems to be little evidence that a second trial will be any less ludicrous than the first, and it is not even clear if the Latortue g
overnment will seek even the rather pathetic token of judicial legitimacy afforded by another kangaroo trial.
Regardless, Minister Gousse has stated that Mr. Chamblain may be pardoned for "his great service to the nation" in the rather unlikely contingency that he is actually convicted for one of his crimes. He has yet to specify exactly which of the hundreds of murders instigated by Mr. Chamblain is most reflective of this supposedly distinguished service.
Ever since the U.S.-sanctioned ousting of President Aristide, the majority of the international community has adopted suspiciously sanitized language to refer to the violent and undemocratic transfer of power on that day and the subsequent installation of an unconstitutional and illegitimate government handpicked by the U.S. ambassador in Port-au-Prince with the approval of Secy. Powell.
The elaborate rhetoric about a "transitional government" of "nonpartisan technocrats" that Washington spoke about should not be allowed to obscure the
reality of what is properly deemed the 33 coup in Haitian history and the second to be perpetrated against Mr. Aristide in a decade.
This reality has been acknowledged in a number of international forums, most notably in the Caribbean Community, with CARICOM—particularly since St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Guyana and Dominica, have steadfastly raised questions about the legitimacy of Mr. Aristide's departure.
Moreover, the Organization of American States, which had called on the UN to provide military and financial support for the embattled Haitian president in February, subsequently passed a resolution in June calling for an investigation into the circumstances of his supposed resignation and exile.
The United Nations, however, has been far less forthcoming, despite calls for an investigation by nearly one-third of its membership. This reticence is partly attributable to the threat of a Security Council veto by Washington or Paris in the case of any serious attempt to ex
amine the events of February 29; at the same time, however, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has demonstrated a notable lack of energy over this issue, producing especially one-sided public statements that freely cast blame on the Aristide government for the breakdown of democratic procedures in Haiti, while entirely ignoring the opposition parties' determined (and largely successful) attempts to stymie these procedures ever since the 2000 presidential elections in which Mr. Aristide won his second term.
More recently, the deployment of an 8,000-member UN peacekeeping force, composed largely of South American troops and led by Brazil, and the appointment of distinguished Chilean diplomat Juan Gabriel Valdez as the Secretary-General's special representative to Haiti has raised hopes that the international organization may finally be preparing to engage seriously in the rebuilding of Haiti's battered democratic institutions and promoting greater attempt for the rule of law.
But unless Mr. Valdez soon
speaks out forcefully, positions himself as an advocate for the non-discriminatory treatment of Lavalas and calls for Gousse to immediately step down, his credentials could soon be tainted.
Yet, any such attempt at greater engagement will be fatally and inevitably flawed if it does not begin with a frank acknowledgement of the true character of Latortue's "nonpartisan technocrats."
Not only has the Latortue regime lacked legitimacy from the start, it has repeatedly demonstrated in the last six months that it is nothing more than a vehicle for the narrowly conceived interests of the tiny Haitian elite and its partners among the former military that have battled against Aristide's populist and democratic Lavalas movement since its inception under the Duvalier dictatorship.
Not only has the Latortue regime enthusiastically pardoned criminals with a proven history of violating the human rights of Aristide supporters in the past, it has overlooked, if not encouraged the mounting of a second re
ign of terror targeting Lavalas members that has unfolded with increasing brutality since Aristide's February ousting.
The moment is long overdue for the United Nations and the Latortue regime's most loyal patron, the Bush administration, to confront the prime minister and Gousse regarding their despicable history of sanctioning human rights violations.
Furthermore, Mr. Valdez must bring a broad definition to his responsibilities and, among other things, call for an investigation of the pardoning of their perpetrators, while demanding an immediate reversal in the de facto regime's undeclared but devastatingly effective war on the Lavalas party, beginning with a voiding of Chamblain's ludicrous acquittal.
If the government refuses to cooperate, increased authority should be given to the UN force to take custody of suspects awaiting trial. The possibility of international financial or personnel support for the traditionally corrupt, under-trained and under-financed Haitian judiciary should
be immediately explored in order to ensure that such mockery of the justice system does not happen again.
It is time to drop the pretenses that have shrouded Haitian realities since February. Louis-Jodel Chamblain is a convicted murderer, and the Latortue regime, the illegitimate product of a U.S.-backed coup. Both should be awarded the treatment they deserve, which is to be sped to their retirement homes in Boca Raton.
(Reprinted from Caribbeannetnews. Jessica Leight is a research fellow with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. Additional research was provided by Eleanor Thomas and Kirstin Kramer, COHA research associates. For more information, visit www.coha.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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