Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Protect the Rights of Human Rights Observers

May 24, 2005

Half Hour For Haiti: Protect the Rights of Human Rights Observers

Thank you for everyone who responded to last week’s appeal for UN protection of demonstrations on Flag Day. The UN peacekeepers did, in fact, provide security for the demonstrations, and as a result no one was killed during the protests. Unfortunately, Haitian police fired at people going home after the demonstrations, killing at least one.

Yvon Neptune, the subject of the May 3rd alert, is still alive, but still in prison. His condition continues to get worse (updates are available under “Recent News” at www.ijdh.org).

This week’s action is to protect human rights observers. The issue has become particularly acute over the last two weeks, because the Haitian government will not let journalists visit Yvon Neptune. This is a continuation of a policy instituted in early March, when the government refused to let attorney Ira Kurzban, who was part of a delegation organized by Rep. Maxine Waters, even enter the country. We are asking everyone to sign a petition, asking 1) the Haitian government to allow Mr. Kurzban access to Haiti on the same terms as any other American citizen; and 2) the United Nations and the United States to assure that Mr. Kurzban’s rights as a lawyer and human rights observer are respected, at http://www.ipetitions.com/campaigns/Kurzban

Background: Ira Kurzban is a prominent human rights and immigration lawyer, and has been the U.S. attorney for Haiti’s democratically elected governments since 1991. He has also represented members of Haiti’s constitutional governments, including President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, now in exile in South Africa, and former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, both political prisoners in Haiti, as well as many other clients in Haiti. Mr. Kurzban has been a prominent critic of the Interim Government of Haiti’s (IGH) human rights record.

Kurzban travelled to Haiti on March 7, 2004, with a human right delegation led by Rep. Maxine Waters. The delegation had announced their visit in advance, including their intention to visit Yvon Neptune and other political prisoners in Haitian jails. When the delegation’s American Airlines flight arrived in Port-au-Prince, the U.S. Embassy’s charg é d’affaires in Haiti informed Mr. Kurzban that Haitian authorities would arrest him if he entered the country. Mr. Kurzban replied that he had nothing to hide, and tried to enter anyway, but IGH officials blocked him, without providing an explanation. He was forced to return to the U.S. on the next flight. The other members of the delegation were allowed to continue, but the delay prevented them from making some of their planned meetings.

Mr. Kurzban’s unexplained exclusion is a violation of his clients’ rights to an attorney. It also fits squarely within a pattern of attempts to thwart investigation and reporting on human rights violations in Haiti, especially in the prisons. IJDH’s report on the December 1, 2004 Prison Massacre documented how independent Haitian human rights workers, journalists, and even families of detainees are denied access to prisoners. On January 14, journalist Abdias Jean was executed by police, as he was covering a police sweep in a poor neighborhood. In April the police arrested and harrassed Ginette Apollon and Paul Loulou Chéry, two labor leaders returning from a conference where they had criticized the IGH’s human rights record. Now, the IGH will not let reporters speak with Yvon Neptune. This pattern not only affects individual investigators and prisoners; it has a chilling effect on all independent human rights workers. It is especially worrisome as the IGH has announced elections for October, November and December.

Please visit http://www.ipetitions.com/campaigns/Kurzban  and sign the petition in support of Ira Kurzban and all human rights workers.

For more information on Yvon Neptune’s imprisonment, see the “Recent News” section of www.ijdh. org, and http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_halfhourforhaiti_may-3-05.htm.

For more information on Ginette Apollon and Paul Loulou Chéry, see http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_halfhourforhaiti_april-26-05.html

For more information on Ira Kurzban’s exclusion, see http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_recent_news_march-7-b.html, and http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_recent_news_march-24-05.htm

For more information on Ginette Apollon and Paul Loulou Chéry, see http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_halfhourforhaiti_april-26-05.html

For more information on Ira Kurzban’s exclusion, see http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_recent_news_march-7-b.html, and http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_recent_news_march-24-05.htm

 

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Institute for Justice & Democracy In Haiti
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