Half-Hour for Haiti: Don’t Let Prison Be A Death Sentence
For Father Gerry
We have some bad news to report on Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste, the Haitian priest who has been imprisoned in Haiti since his illegal arrest on July 21. Dr. Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School, who has run a clinic in Haiti for 20 years, examined him on Christmas Eve and ran some tests. The tests came back last week, and show that Fr. Gerry has chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Dr. Farmer could not say exactly how advanced Fr. Gerry’s leukemia is- those tests need to be done in the U.S.- but the symptoms are progressing rapidly, and could advance quickly into a fatal stage, or compromise Fr. Gerry’s immune system enough that the diseases of a Haitian prison would kill him.For more information, see three excellent pieces in the Miami Herald: Prisoner of Conscience Faces a Deadly Illness (Editorial), Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste- Languishing and Sick in a Haitian Jail (Dr. Farmer’s Op-Ed), and Jailed Priest has Developed Leukemia (news story). For more information on Fr. Gerry and his legal situation, see http://www.ijdh.org/articles/article_jean_juste.htm..
The cancer is probably treatable now, but not in a Haitian hospital. We need to make sure that Fr. Gerry is released from prison and provided medical treatment in the U.S.
The U.S. is the Interim Haitian Government’s principle patron, providing generous financial support as well as guns for the police. Almost all top government officials travel regularly to the U.S. A credible threat to withhold aid to the Interim Government and to cancel the U.S. visas of those responsible for Fr. Gerry’s persecution would quickly pry Fr. Gerry’s cell doors open..
The U.S. has, so far, declined to use its influence, telling both Republicans and Democrats in Congress that the Haitian justice system needs time to work, and that Fr. Gerry is receiving adequate healthcare in prison. But the State Department’s own website calls medical care in Haiti “scarce and substandard” and warns travelers that “medical care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and … life-threatening emergencies may require evacuation by air ambulance….” In Fr. Jean-Juste’s case, the government insisted as late as December that its doctors could find nothing wrong with Fr. Jean-Juste.
Haiti’s justice system was corrupt and politicized (the UN called it “catastrophic” in October) even before December 9, when the Prime Minister illegally fired five Supreme Court Justices and replaced them with his henchmen, and the courts shut down in protest (see BAI Press Release on Illegal Replacement of Supreme Court , and IJDH’s Down in Haiti, the Chickens are Coming Home to Roost). The courts have remained closed, and there is no resolution to the impasse in sight.
Help save Fr. Gerry’s Life: Write, fax or call Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. A sample letter is below, feel free to modify it. Sec. Shannon’s telephone number is: 1-202-647-5780, his fax is 1-202-647-0791. You can try emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org, but we have not been able to confirm that address.
Via Facsimile No. 1-202-647-0791
Thomas A. Shannon
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Re: Haitian Political Prisoner Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste
Dear Assistant Secretary Shannon:
I am writing to urge you to immediately take every possible measure to ensure that the Interim Haitian Government (IGH) releases political prisoner Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste immediately. These measures should include suspending all financial aid and arms transfers to the IGH, and suspending the U.S. visas of IGH officials involved in Fr. Jean-Juste’s persecution, including President Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and Judge Jean-Paul Perez.
The IGH has held Fr. Jean-Juste, Haiti’s most prominent political dissident, for five months without presenting any evidence against him. This unjustified detention may convert to a death sentence: Dr. Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School recently diagnosed Fr. Jean-Juste with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
U.S. State Department officials have justified not intervening by claiming that the Haitian justice system needs time to work, and that Fr. Gerry is receiving adequate healthcare in prison. But the State Department’s own website calls medical care in Haiti “scarce and substandard” and warns travelers that “medical care in Port-au-Prince is limited, and … life-threatening emergencies may require evacuation by air ambulance….” In Fr. Jean-Juste’s case, the government told the Associated Press in December that its doctors could find nothing wrong with Fr. Jean-Juste. Doctors who did not diagnose an advanced cancer last month should not be counted on to treat it now. Moreover, Dr. Farmer has concluded that adequate facilities for diagnosing and treating Fr. Jean-Juste are not available in Haiti.
Haiti’s justice system was corrupt and politicized (the UN called it “catastrophic” in October) even before December 9, when the Prime Minister illegally fired five Supreme Court Justices and the courts shut down in protest. The courts have remained closed, and there is no resolution to the impasse in sight.
Haiti’s justice system has been particularly unjust to Fr. Jean-Juste. In Amnesty International’s words, he has been “detained solely because he has peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.” Fr. Jean-Juste has been arrested illegally twice, and when a courageous judge released him for lack of evidence in November, 2004, the government illegally forced the judge off the bench.
If Fr. Jean-Juste dies in prison, it will not be of “natural causes.” It will be because the IGH, with the acquiescence of the U.S. government, killed him by keeping him in prison without justification and prevented him from receiving adequate treatment. There is still time to prevent this tragedy, and the U.S. has the power to do it. I therefore urge you to do everything in your power to liberate Fr. Jean-Juste immediately.
For more information about the Half-Hour for Haiti Program, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, or human rights in Haiti, see www.ijdh.org.