Human Rights Day
Prove That Human Rights Matter:
Fight For The Release of Haiti’s Political Prisoners
December 10, 2004
Today, Human Rights Day, commemorates the UN General Assembly’s proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. The anniversary provides an opportunity to celebrate the human rights movement’s many accomplishments over the last 56 years, but also a chance to recognize the work left to be done.
To the 700 political prisoners in Haitian jails, the Universal Declaration’s promise of the rights to liberty (article 3), to protection against arbitrary arrest and detention (article 9) and to fair and public hearings (article 10) is a dream deferred. The cells are packed with political prisoners- many need to wait for their turn to sleep on the floor- while their files are empty of legal justification for their detention.
The Haitian government denies it holds any political prisoners. Finance Minister Henri Bazin declared Tuesday that “the people put in jail are people who have been accused of committing violent crimes and were killing people.” But the Universal Declaration and the Haitian Constitution require the government to prove this in court, not in press conferences. Very few political prisoners have been brought before a judge, although many have been in jail since March.
Three political prisoners have been brought to court. A judge ordered local official Jacques Mathelier freed on July 12, but prison authorities transferred Mathelier out of that judge’s jurisdiction, and he remains in prison. On November 22, another judge declared the arrest of grassroots activist Jean-Marie Samedi “illegal and arbitrary,” and ordered “his immediate liberation… regardless of any appeals.” The government has ignored this order.
The experience of the third political prisoner, Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste, shows why the human rights movement matters. After his October 13 arrest, hundreds, if not thousands of people contacted the Haitian government, the U.S. and the UN to urge that Fr. Jean-Juste’s rights be respected. After a month the government brought him before a judge, but ignored the judge’s liberation order. Ten days later UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the release of all of Haiti’s political prisoners. A week after that, Fr. Jean-Juste walked free.
Fr. Jean-Juste will spend Human Rights Day with his parish, while Jean-Marie Samedi, Jacques Mathelier and hundreds of other political prisoners will assess the meaning of the Universal Declaration from their prison cells. Not because Fr. Jean-Juste had a better legal claim- hundreds of cases are equally weak- but because people all over the world insisted that the interim Haitian government comply with minimum human rights standards in that case.
Together we can show that human rights matters for all Haitians. Sample letters for the U.S. government and the United Nations are below. Although Haiti’s interim government bears the primary responsibility for political prisoners, both the U.S. and the UN have obligations and opportunities to ensure the protection of human rights in Haiti. The U.S. is the interim government’s principal international patron, and U.S. consultants work in the Ministry of Justice, the courts and the prisons. The UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH works closely with the Haitian police, sometimes providing backup for illegal arrests of political prisoners. Plus their phone lines work.
Please honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with your letter, fax, email or telephone call today in support of political prisoners in Haiti. For more information on human rights in Haiti, or to view the Universal Declaration, see our website, www.ijdh.org.
Brian Concannon Jr.
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
December 10, 2004
Hon. James B. Foley
United States Ambassador to Haiti
United States Embassy
Boulevard Harry Truman
Dear Ambassador Foley:
As you know, the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission estimates there are over 700 political prisoners in Haitian jails. Although the interim Haitian government claims that all of its prisoners are criminals, they have been unwilling to test this claim in court. Most political prisoners have not been brought before a judge. Some, like Jean-Marie Samedi and Jacques Mathelier, have obtained liberation orders, which the interim government ignores.
Today marks the 56th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly declared that “[e]veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind” (article 2); that “[n]o one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (article 9); and that “[e]veryone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial” (article 11).
These basic guarantees are enshrined in the United States’ legal tradition, as well as in Haiti’s Constitution. I urge you to use all of the United States’ considerable influence with the interim Haitian government to make sure that all of Haiti’s political prisoners be immediately released unless the interim government can justify their detention in a fair, impartial hearing.
Fax to: 011-509-223-9038 or 011-509-223-1641 (U.S. Embassy, Port-au-Prince)
(202) 647-2901 (State Department Haiti Desk, Washington)
Call: 011-509-223-4711 (U.S. Embassy, Port-au-Prince)
(202) 647-5088 (Anthony Beaver/John Mariz, State Department Haiti Desk)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Roger Noriega Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; BanksD@state.gov (Dana Banks, Human Rights Officer, U.S. Embassy, Port-au-Prince)
SEND COPIES TO AS MANY OF THESE PEOPLE AS YOU CAN
December 10, 2004
Fax No. (212) 963-4879
Hon. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General
United Nations Headquarters
First Avenue at 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
Dear Secretary-General Annan:
Thank you for speaking up for Haiti’s political prisoners on November 23, and for reminding Haiti’s interim government that “the arbitrary detention of people solely for their political affiliation is in contravention of fundamental human rights principles.” Unfortunately, between that speech and today’s commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, only one political prisoner has been released.
The Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission estimates that over 700 political prisoners in Haiti will observe this year’s Human Rights Day in crowded cells. Many have been incarcerated since March. Most have never been allowed before a judge. Some, like Jean-Marie Samedi and Jacques Mathelier, have obtained liberation orders, which the interim government ignores.
The UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, works closely with the Haitian police, often providing support for arrests that are made without a warrant. MINUSTAH’s role in Haiti, its participation in arrest operations, and the UN’s historical role in promoting human rights all place an obligation on you and on MINUSTAH to ensure that political prisoners benefit from the basic guarantees of the Universal Declaration and the Haitian Constitution.
Accordingly, I urge you to use all of your considerable influence with the interim Haitian government and the international community to ensure that all of Haiti’s political prisoners are immediately released unless the interim government can justify their detention in a fair, impartial hearing.
With Copies to: email@example.com (Touissant Kongo-Doudou, Chief of Communications,United Nations Support Mission To Haiti