Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Half Hour for Haiti: Justice for Political Prisoner Jacques Mathelier

 June 21, 2005

A week ago today, Bernard Gousse, Haiti’s Minister of Justice, resigned. Gousse has been the strongest single force behind the persecution of political prisoners in Haiti. He personally (and illegally) countermanded release orders by judges and even his own prosecutors. He personally led at least one midnight illegal arrest (for much more information, see

Gousse’s departure is a good sign in two ways. First, it is a sign that our advocacy is working: most media reports and commentators on the resignation attributed it to the international pressure on Gousse, especially in the Neptune case. Second, it is a sign of hope that political prisoners may be released. But the hope will not automatically transform into reality: the people who placed Gousse in his position and supported him for a year are still there, as is the apparatus of torture and persecution that he oversaw. So after a quick pat on our backs, we need to get back to work.

We’ll start with Jacques Mathelier, one of the easiest cases. Mathelier, the former Delegu é (the local representative of the Executive Branch) of the South Department was arrested a year ago this Sunday (June 26), on charges that he encouraged violence, arson and an attempted assassination. But the Interim Government of Haiti (IGH) has produced no evidence of Mathelier’s guilt. A judge in Les Cayes noted the absence of evidence against Mathelier, last July 12, and provided the prosecutor a chance to respond with evidence. The IGH responded by transferring Mathelier out of that judge’s jurisdiction, to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. He now lies in legal limbo: the IGH will neither pursue the case against him nor allow him access to a judge.

Despite the injustices he has suffered, Mathelier demonstrated enormous faith in the ideal of justice: he escaped with hundreds of other prisoners during a prison break on February 19, but four days later, when the prison appeared safe, he turned himself in.

Illegalities in Jacques Mathelier’s case :

1) Arrested at night, when the Constitution prohibits arrests after 6 PM;

2) Not allowed before a judge for 16 days, when the Constitution requires a hearing to confirm all detentions within 48 hours;

3) Pre-trial investigation exceeded three month legal limit;

4) Not allowed access to a judge; and

5) No evidence in his file justifying his detention.

Other Injustices: Mathelier’s house was burned down in March, 2004. His wife was threatened by the director of National Penitentiary for speaking out about the situation of political prisoners in Haiti. On one occasion, Mrs. Mathelier was assaulted by police or prison guards at the National Penitentiary.

Action: Write to Gousse’s successor as Minister of Justice, urge him or her to review the cases of all prisoners who were politically active, and to immediately release all of them who have been detained illegally, or against whom there is no evidence. Urge the Minister to immediately send Jacques Mathelier before the court in Les Cayes, and to respect that court’s decision.

Sample letters, in French and in English, are below. Feel free to adapt them or to use your own language. English will do- all Haitian Ministers of Justice over the last decade have read English- but if you do write French, a French letter is preferable. Airmail postage for a letter from the U.S. to Haiti is 80 cents.


Ministre de la Justice et de la Sécurité Publique

Ministère de la Justice

19 Avenue Charles Summer

Port-au-Prince, Haïti

Monsieur/Madame le Ministre:

Congratulations on your nomination as Minister of Justice. I am writing to urge you to show your commitment to the rule of law in Haiti by immediately reviewing the files of all prisoners in Haiti who have been politically active in the past, and to ensure that all of them who are not legally charged, with evidence in their files, are immediately released.

I would like to draw your particular attention to the case of Jacques Mathelier, the former Delegué of the South Department. He was arrested a year ago, on June 26, 2004. Although the charges against him are serious, they are not justified by any evidence presented to the court. In fact, during a hearing on July 12, 2004, the judge in Les Cayes found no evidence to justify Mathelier’s detention. Two days later, Mathelier was transferred to the National Penitentiary, where he remains.

Jacques Mathelier left the Penitentiary during the prison break on February 19, 2004. But he showed his faith in the justice system by voluntarily returning four days later. I urge you to show the same faith in justice by ensuring that Mathelier is immediately brought before the court in Les Cayes, and released unless there is strong evidence of his guilt in his case file.

I thank you in advance for your consideration.

Very truly yours,


Ministre de la Justice et de la Sécurité Publique

Ministère de la Justice

19 Avenue Charles Summer

Port-au-Prince, Haïti

Monsieur/Madame le Ministre:

Félicitations pour votre nomination au poste de Ministre de la Justice. Je vous écris afin de vous enjoindre de démontrer votre engagement pour le respect de la loi haïtienne, ceci en procédant à la réexamination des dossiers de tous les prisioniers en Haïti qui ont été politiquement actifs par le passé, et en vous assurant que tous ceux et celles qui ne sont pas légalement mis en accusation, avec preuve à l’appui dans leur dossier, soient relachés immédiatement.

Je désire attirer votre attention en particulier sur le cas de Jacques Mathelier, l’ex-délégué du Département Sud. On l’a arrêté il y a un an, le 26 juin 2004. Bien que les accusations portées contre lui soient très sérieuses, aucune preuve n’a à ce jour été présentée à la cour pour les appuyer. Qui plus est, lors d’une audition le 12 juillet 2004, le juge de Les Cayes conclut qu’aucune preuve ne justifiait la détention de Mr Mathelier. Celui-ci se vit néanmoins transféré, deux jours plus tard, au Pénitentier National, où il est toujours détenu.

Jacques Mathelier quitta le Pénitentier lors de l’évasion massive du 19 février 2004. Mais il démontra la grande foi et le grand respect qu’il porte au système judiciaire quand, quatre jours plus tard, il revint volontairement au pénitencier. Je vous enjoins de faire preuve des mêmes foi et respect, en vous assurant que Mr Mathelier soit finalement présenté en cour à Les Cayes, et qu’il soit relâché s’il n’y a pas de preuve suffisante de sa culpabilité dans le dossier en question.

Merci à l’avance de prendre cette requête en considération.

En vous priant d’agréer l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués,


For more information about the Half Hour For Haiti program or human rights in Haiti, see


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