[News] Haitian Chickens are Coming Home to Roost

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 30 11:48:23 EST 2005

December 30, 2005

Meanwhile, Down in Haiti...

The Chickens are Coming Home to Roost


Haiti's Judicial and Executive Branches are both getting what they 
deserve this holiday season- each other. After 22 months of close 
collaboration to trample Haiti's Constitution and democracy, they 
have now turned their destructive energies on each other. The Cour de 
Cassation (Supreme Court) outraged Interim Prime Minister Gerard 
Latortue on December 8 by decreeing that Dumarsais Simeus was 
wrongfully disqualified from the upcoming Presidential elections. 
Latortue retaliated the next day by firing five of the Court's 
justices, replacing them with henchmen. The judiciary went on strike, 
which has shut down the justice system for four weeks.

It is a measure of how far Haiti has strayed from constitutional rule 
since the February 2004 coup d'etat that both sides in this dispute 
are wrong. The Cour de Cassation wrongly reinstated Simeus' illegal 
candidacy not once, but twice. Simeus cannot be President because the 
Constitution requires Presidential candidates to have lived in the 
country for the last five years, and to have never taken foreign 
citizenship. Mr. Simeus readily concedes in media interviews that he 
resides in Southlake Texas and has obtained U.S. citizenship. The 
Cour de Cassation could not go so far as to ignore the Constitution's 
plain prohibitions, but it came close. Instead of saying that the 
citizenship and residency bars do not apply, the Justices ruled that 
they had no evidence of Simeus' U.S. residency and citizenship- 
unlike the dozens of journalists who have asked him.

Prime Minister Latortue's objection to the Cour's decision is right, 
but he is the wrong man to make it. The same residency requirement 
applies to Presidents and Prime Ministers alike, and Mr. Latortue 
lived in Boca Raton Florida for years before being illegally 
installed as Prime Minister by the U.S. and Haitian elites in March 
2004. The Constitution requires an interim government to hold 
elections within 90 days from taking office, but Latortue will have 
700 days in office, at the very least.

Latortue's response to the Cour's decision is equally wrong. As in 
the U.S., justices in Haiti can only be removed through specific 
procedures, for duly established wrongdoing or permanent physical or 
mental incapacity. Latortue did not even give lip service to any of 
these procedures, he just fired the justices. Later his aides claimed 
that the justices were old and needed to be retired, but the 
Constitution does not recognize that claim.

The justice system's expressed outrage at the executive branch's 
interference was justified in principle, but disingenuous coming from 
a judiciary that had loyally backed Mr. Latortue's attacks on the 
rule of law for almost two years. The courts have routinely freed 
convicted mass murderers who support the government, while holding 
government critics indefinitely on absolutely no evidence.

Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, for example, was arrested without a warrant in 
October, 2004. When the government could produce no evidence against 
him, a courageous judge, Judge Fleury, ordered him released. The 
Minister of Justice then forced Judge Fleury off the bench, with the 
support of the Trial Court's Chief Judge, and without complaint from 
the Cour de Cassation's judges, or even ANAMAH, the Haitian judges' 

Judge Fleury was replaced by another judge, Judge Peres, who was head 
of ANAMAH, and active in the anti-Lavalas opposition before the coup. 
Fr. Jean-Juste was re-arrested in July, again without a warrant. The 
case was given to Judge Peres, who has obediently held Fr. Gerry in 
prison for five months now despite a complete lack of evidence. This 
"pre-trial" detention may be a death sentence- Fr. Jean-Juste has 
just been diagnosed with leukemia. The kind of leukemia he likely has 
can be treated, but not in Haiti's prisons.

Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Commission, 45 members of 
the U.S. Congress and human rights groups all over the world have 
criticized the injustice of Fr. Jean-Juste's persecution. Not one 
member of the Haitian judiciary has spoken against it, at least in public.

The Cour de Cassation itself led the charge in dismantling the 
Raboteau massacre case, the centerpiece of the fight to establish the 
rule of law under Haiti's elected governments. The case had been 
heralded as a landmark in the fight against impunity by the UN and 
human rights groups when the trial concluded in November 2000. Those 
convicted appealed at the time, which they had the right to do, but 
the Cour refused to rule on the case, which it had no right to do. 
The massacre victims smelled a rat as 2001 turned to 2002 and 2003, 
without any action- they feared that the court was dragging its feet, 
keeping the case technically open until it could be reversed by a 
government sympathetic to the convicts.

The foot-dragging was amply rewarded in March 2004, when Chief 
Justice Boniface Alexandre was named Interim President (although 
Prime Minister Latortue has all the power). The rat was pulled from 
the Justices' robes last summer, when they threw out the Raboteau 
trial on the grounds that the case was inappropriately sent to a 
jury. This decision was unjustified and outrageous- the justices 
themselves had approved sending the case to the jury in 1999, and the 
defendants never even objected. But no one in the judiciary complained.

There is no satisfaction in seeing Haiti's two remaining branches of 
government getting what they deserve, because the real burden of this 
dispute falls, as always on the poor. The judges and ministers may be 
truly outraged, but they are not spending their lives Haiti's 
prisons, under conditions that a U.S. court has likened to a slave 
ship. Almost everyone in jail in Haiti is poor- in a justice system 
where money talks, the well-off quickly walk. Ninety-five percent of 
them have never been convicted of a crime. Their hopes for justice 
were always slim, but with the courts shut down for four weeks, their 
hopes are now none.

All of this bodes poorly as elections in Haiti- currently scheduled 
for January 8, but certain to be postponed for the fifth time- 
approach. The electoral law gives the Cour de Cassation the last word 
on most electoral disputes. The electoral preparations by the 
unconstitutional Provisional Electoral Council have so far been 
consistently mismanaged and biased in favor of Mr. Latortue's allies, 
so the actual voting will undoubtedly generate disputes. The disputes 
will go to a Court which had lost most of its credibility even before 
it became stacked with Latortue's henchmen. In its current state, the 
Cour will have neither the ability nor willingness to curb the 
Interim Government's most blatant electoral abuses. That, in the end, 
may be the whole point.

Brian Concannon Jr., Esq. directs the Institute for Justice and 
Democracy in Haiti, <http://www.ijdh.org/>www.ijdh.org, and is a 
former OAS Elections Observer and UN Human Rights Observer in Haiti.

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