Justice Scorned in Haiti
New York Times Editorial
Friday 20 August 2004
When the Bush administration pushed for the ouster of Haiti's democratically elected president earlier this year, one of its main complaints was his reliance on armed political gangs to sustain his rule. Now the new government that Washington helped install in Jean-Bertrand Aristide's place has permitted a scandalous judicial exoneration of one of Haiti's most notorious political gangsters, Louis-Jodel Chamblain. Mr. Chamblain just happens to have been a leading force in the February rebellion that helped force Mr. Aristide from office.
Mr. Chamblain's violent history goes back more than a decade. Under the military government of the early 1990's, he was one of the leaders of a death squad that is alleged to have murdered thousands of people.
After American tro
ops restored democracy to Haiti in 1994, Mr. Chamblain fled to the Dominican Republic. Haitian courts twice convicted him in absentia for politically motivated killings - once for organizing the 1993 assassination of Antoine Izméry, a pro-Aristide business leader who was dragged from a church service and shot, and another time for complicity in the death squad massacre of residents of Raboteau, a slum on the outskirts of Gonaives.
Under Haitian law, Mr. Chamblain was entitled to new trials after his return from exile. The first, in the Izméry case, was held this week. In a quickly convened overnight proceeding, the prosecution produced just one witness - who claimed to know nothing about the case - and Mr. Chamblain was promptly acquitted.
Washington rightly deplored the haste and "procedural deficiencies" of the Chamblain retrial. But it should not have been particularly surprised.
Haiti's justice minister, Bernard Gousse, earlier suggested that Mr. Chamblain might be par
doned "for his great services to the nation" as a leader of the anti-Aristide rebellion in February. Before that, Prime Minister Gérard Latortue had publicly hailed another rebel leader, who had also been convicted in the Raboteau massacre, as a "freedom fighter."
Mr. Chamblain's earlier trials in absentia may have been flawed as well, although they were less hastily prepared and conducted. A poorly staffed, unprofessional and highly politicized judicial system has been a serious problem in Haiti for decades. But the current Haitian government - sponsored by Washington, led by internationally known technocrats like Mr. Latortue and protected by a U.N. peacekeeping force - is supposed to be setting a better example. Instead, it has given another ugly example of a Haitian government that shields its political gangster allies from justice.
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