Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

OUR OPINION: YVON NEPTUNE SHOULD BE RELEASED BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

May 11, 2005
Hunger strike in Haiti (Miami Herald – Editorial)

OUR OPINION: YVON NEPTUNE SHOULD BE RELEASED BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

The prolonged detention without trial of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has turned into an embarrassing and unnecessary predicament for the interim government of Haiti. With Mr. Neptune in failing health on the 24th day of his hunger strike, it’s time for the government to put an end to this disgraceful spectacle by releasing the 58-year-old from house arrest before things get worse.

Mr. Neptune, once the loyal deputy of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is accused of being responsible for an alleged massacre near the coastal city of St. Marc on Feb. 11, 2004, days before Mr. Aristide left the country. There are several problems with the accusation. The facts of the St. Marc incident remain in dispute. Haiti was in flames; all sides committed acts of violence. Since jailing Mr. Neptune in June, the government has presented no evidence against him.

By keeping him in jail, the government calls attention to the wretched state of civil rights. In expressing concern over Mr. Neptune’s situation last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted that of the 1,054 inmates in the National Penitentiary, only nine were convicted of any crime.

Mr. Neptune earlier refused a government offer to fly him out of the country. He insisted on an unconditional release. The government should agree. This wouldn’t exonerate him but would acknowledge reality: It’s hard to administer perfect justice under an interim government that inherited a dysfunctional judicial system and a country in chaos. The government also would rid itself of the appearance that it is persecuting allies of Mr. Aristide.

For the sake of its own credibility, the United States has a duty to speak up. Last year, U.S. Ambassador James Foley acknowledged the ”crucial and courageous” role Mr. Neptune played in the period before and after Mr. Aristide’s departure. U.S. officials should remind Haiti’s government of this and urge the release of Mr. Neptune before it’s too late.

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