Haitian government releases defiant priest

The Haitian government finally released Father Gerard Jean-Juste on Nov. 29 after imprisoning him for six weeks on trumped-up charges. A judge ruled Nov. 19 that there was no evidence to support government charges against him of inciting violence and importing arms.

Police arrested Jean-Juste Oct. 13 in his Port-au-Prince parish. Human rights activists had launched an international campaign to secure the Haitian priest’s release from prison.

Upon his release, Jean-Juste rejected “deliberately false accusations” made against him and accused the government of having violated the principles that govern the state’s relationship with the church.

According to observers, despite Jean-Juste’s release, Haiti’s justice system has disintegrated under the new regime.

“There is no question that the legal system in Haiti is in serious difficulty,” Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans and an adviser to Jean-Juste’s legal team, told the World.

“Though Haiti has a great set of constitutional and statutory laws, they are routinely ignored. The requirement of the Haitian constitution that all arrested people see a judge within 48 hours is regularly violated by months of detention without seeing a judge,” Quigley said.

“The poor fill the jails and are supplemented by many political prisoners. I visited the national penitentiary in late September and there were 850 people in there — all but 25 were still waiting to see a judge for the first time. When I visited again two weeks later, there were 1,050 in prison — all but 28 waiting to see a judge.”

A human rights monitor based in Haiti, who did not want to give her name, agreed with Quigley’s assessment and said Jean-Juste’s case is not exceptional.

“What is important to remember is that in other cases where judges have ordered the release of political prisoners, these orders have been ignored either by higher officials or the police,” she said.

“In the case of Jacques Mathelier, a delegate from Les Cayes, for example, a judge ordered his release from jail on July 12. Instead of releasing him, he was transferred to Port-au-Prince where he remains in prison.”

The lack of law and order in Haiti prompted UN General Secretary Kofi Annan to recently call on the government to free Lavalas Party political prisoners arrested without charges. Lavalas is the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted from power on Feb. 29 and is currently in exile. Annan also criticized the country’s justice system for being “dysfunctional” and the police for operating “outside the purview of the rule of law.”

In other developments:

• According to a recently posted Office of Transition Initiatives report on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s web site, members of the Kosovo Protection Corps (formerly the Kosovo Liberation Army) are being employed by the agency in Haiti to assist in the reintegration of members of the country’s disbanded military. The KLA has reportedly carried out terrorist attacks throughout the Balkans and has ties to Al Qaeda.

• According to Michael Brewer, an American in Port-au-Prince who runs Haitian Street Kids Inc., which cares for homeless children, former soldiers are murdering street kids.

• Thousands of Haitians marched in Port-au-Prince Nov. 26, demanding the return of deposed President Aristide.

• On Dec. 1, police opened fire on prisoners who had organized a demonstration at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, killing 10 or more prisoners, according to AHP News. Prisoners were protesting poor living conditions and that they have been held for months without being brought before a judge.



The author can be reached at tpelzer@shaw.ca.