Disturbing The Peace
Brian Concannon Jr.
Boston Haitian Reporter
On Wednesday and Friday afternoons, hundreds of poor children find their only meal of the day at Haiti’s Sainte Claire’s Catholic Church. On Wednesday October 13, they were joined by masked and heavily armed police who handcuffed their pastor, Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, and dragged him out through a window and off to a police station. The police did not show the warrant required by Haiti’s Constitution, nor was Fr. Jean-Juste brought before a judge within 48 hours as the law requires.
Fr. Jean-Juste, known in the U.S. as “Fr. Gerry”, has spent a quarter-century preaching non-violence and fighting against illegal arrests and other injustice, in Haiti and in the U.S. He was ordained in America, but felt compelled to return to Haiti to face the injustice of “Baby-Doc” Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime. He was soon forced out of Haiti, and spent several years in Boston, working in local parishes and studying at Northeastern University. In the late 1970’s he started fighting in the courts: he won a lawsuit against Duvalier in Miami Federal Court, and he co-founded Florida’s Haitian Refugee Center, which helped thousands of refugees and challenged unjust immigration policies all the way to the Supreme Court.
Fr. Jean-Juste returned to Haiti, with lessons from America about non-violent political organizing and fighting injustice through the courts. During Haiti’s nine years of elected government (1994-2004), he worked with victims of past dictatorships to channel their anger into lawsuits. He spoke out forcefully and eloquently against all kinds of violence, whether perpetrated by the Constitutional government’s opponents or by its supporters, from the pulpit and from the microphone of his popular radio show. In one particularly memorable moment, when opposition political party offices were attacked after Jean Dominique’s April 2000 funeral, Fr. Gerry talked on the radio for two hours straight, imploring everyone to go home, calm down, and learn to fight without violence.
Fr. Jean-Juste continued to stand up for justice after the unconstitutional interim regime replaced Haiti’s elected government last February. Although friends and relatives told him to go into hiding, he refused to leave his parish work. Nor did he let fear prevent him from denouncing human rights violations in the Haitian and international press. He was the only summoned witness who dared appear in the August 16 trial for the killing of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery. Everyone knew the trial was a fraud- Amnesty International called it “an insult to justice” – and Fr. Jerry knew he risked arrest at the courthouse. But he could not ignore a judicial order, so he showed up at trial.
Haiti’s Minister of Justice, Bernard Gousse, alleges that Fr. Jean-Juste associates with people engaged in violence. The Prime Minister, Gérard Latortue claims there was a warrant. But both made their case in press interviews, not legal proceedings. The police register lists his crime as “disturbing the peace”, which carries a maximum sentence of four days in prison and 17 gourdes fine (about 50 cents). If the government really believes Fr. Jean-Juste is arming the hungry as well as feeding them, they should be willing to test that belief in court.
If past is prologue, Fr. Jean-Juste will have a long wait for his day in court. He joins a long line of political prisoners arrested since March, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Senator Yvon Feuillé (who is entitled to parliamentary immunity), former Deputy Rudy Hérivaux, a teacher, two musicians, nine union leaders and a host of former officials. All have been accused of a connection to violence in press conferences, but only one has been permitted to challenge his detention in court. When that one, local official Jacques Mathelier, went to court on July 12, the judge ordered his immediate liberation. Prison officials gave him an immediate transfer out of that judge’s jurisdiction and he remains in jail.
The prominent political prisoners may be the lucky ones. Hundreds of men and women too poor to be noticed by the outside world rot anonymously behind bars, and hundreds more have been killed by Haiti’s police or their paramilitary allies, in Bel Air, Cite Soleil, Martissant and Fort National. As Fr. Jean-Juste knows too well, the interim regime’s violence is begetting more violence. When people see their neighbors arrested illegally or executed in broad daylight, they become scared, angry and desperate. When the non-violent leaders are violently arrested and thrown in prison, their calls for peaceful resistance become unconvincing.
The United States, Prime Minister Latortue’s principal international patron, is well-placed to rein in these abuses, and should use its leverage to pry the political prisons open. The State Department did scold Haiti’s authorities after July’s arrest of Yvon Neptune and August’s sham trial, but it was more bark than bite. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega declared that “sooner rather than later the authorities in Haiti are going to have to give Neptune an opportunity to defend himself before an independent judge.” That was July 17- three days later the U.S. pledged $230 million to the authorities in Haiti, three months later Neptune has not seen the judge who issued his arrest warrant.
The police at Sainte Claire’s may have given the most honest explanation for the arrest: they said Fr. Jean-Juste was accused of “troubling the public order.” When “public order” means widespread violence, political arrests reminiscent of the Duvalier era and hunger unprecedented in modern times, Fr. Gerry’s preaching peace, working for justice and feeding children may indeed make him guilty as charged.
Brian Concannon Jr., Esq. is the Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, www.ijdh.org. The Institute’s Lawyers in Haiti are representing Fr. Jean-Juste.
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4) Add to Fr. Gerry’s section: Title: Fr. Jean Juste’s Message From Prison, November 15, 2004.
“Pretty soon freedom will ring!” That is the latest message from Pere
Jean-Juste to friends and supporters of Haiti all around the world. I spoke
with Fr. Jean-Juste in Carrefour prison early Monday morning, November 15,
2004. He is, as always, in great spirits. He says the court hearing on
Friday went very well. Now the judge has given the prosecutor and the
higher courts 5 days to give their approval. There is no specific date set
for him to return to court.
Fr. Jean-Juste said: “Gratitude to all. I have so many to thank. So many
are helping us out that I cannot thank you all by name now. Even though we
are in prison we know what you are doing. We heard about the Amnesty
International report on Haiti here in prison and it lifted us all up. The
truth is coming out. The truth cannot be denied. Special thanks to
Congresswoman Maxine Walters for her recent letter to President Bush and
Colin Powell. Thanks to everyone else who is working for justice for Haiti
as well. As for me, I am surviving pretty good. Please keep up the good
fight. The accusers are feeling the pressure. Pretty soon freedom will
5) Same section, titled: Letter from a Haitian Jail by Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste
Omega-Carrefour Jail, Haiti, November 9, 2004
Greetings and Gratitude!
Courage and Persistence!
I can’t stop thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr., as I am sending you this short letter.
Quoting by heart and in substance Dr. King, allow
me to remind you of this:
“It is not, if I help my brothers and sisters,
what’s going to happen to me? Rather, if I don’t help
them, what’s gong to happen to them?”
Hooded men intimidation, masked gunmen massacre,
masked men attacking the churches, forced entries in
our rectories, arbitrary arrests, defamation,
character assasination, prison, threats of death –
SHOULD NOT STOP ANY HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST OR
INSTITUTIONS advocating for the enjoyment of basic
human needs for all, especially the poor ones.
I think of all of you who advocate for my
release, all who demand the release of all political
prisoners, under the “de facto”, illegal,
unconstitutional Latortue-Alexandre government imposed
facistly by the administration of Presidents G.W.
Bush, Jacques Chirac, and Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Freedom and democracy shall prevail in Haiti.
Visiting Haiti in 1983, Pope John Paul II called
for real change: “Things must change.” LET IT BE!
The represssion on all levels is so heavy. I
call for: an immediate return to constitutional order;
the release of all political prisoners; the respect of
the vote and the will of the people; the rejection of
kidnappings, coup d’etats from whoever the authors.
Let the word of God win our souls! Let love of
God and humanity prevail! Let us start our heaven on
earth as God wants it!
Gratitude, Peace, and Love to you all!
Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste (Nsera Njeri Jan-Jis)
[This letter was sent out of the Omega-Carrefour
Jail by Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste via Bill Quigley, Loyola
University School of Law New Orleans, one of Fr.
Jean-Juste’s lawyers. Fr. Jean-Juste is represented
by Mario Joseph and others with the Institute for
Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Fr. Jean-Juste is
scheduled to appear before a Haitian judge for a
preliminary hearing on Wednesday November 10, 2004.
Bill Quigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
in Haiti at 011-509-528-0311.]