Half-Hour for Haiti: Demand Fairness for René Civil
Update: We have a lot of news this week. The 3rd Solidarity Encounter with the Haitian People concluded last Friday, and issued a set of Resolutions.Today, the British Medical Journal The Lancet published a mortality study that concluded that 8,000 people were killed in Port-au-Prince between February 29 and December 2005. In almost half of the deaths studied, the perpetrators were identified as security agents of the brutal Interim Government of Haiti (IGH), former soldiers or armed anti-Lavalas groups. No murders were attributed to members of Haiti’s Lavalas movement. Similar patterns emerged for sexual assaults and kidnappings. This scientific study directly contradicts the statements of officials of the IGH, the U.S. and MINUSTAH (the United Nations Mission in Haiti), as well as numerous reports in the press and from some Haitian human rights groups attributing most of the violence to the Lavalas movement. The study confirms investigations by the University of Miami’s Center for the Study of Human Rights in 2004, and Harvard Law School in 2005.Today’s Democracy Now! program interviewed the Lancet study’s authors, and covered two more important Haiti stories: a human rights delegation’s documentation of a bloody raid on civilians by MINUSTAH troops in Port-au-Prince last week, and the damages hearing of death squad leader and CIA agent Emmanuel Constant, who has been found liable by a U.S. Federal Court for rape committed by his FRAPH paramilitary organization. The transcripts, audio and video versions of all three stories are available at www.DemocracyNow.org.
This week’s action: René Civil, a grassroots activist with Haiti’s Lavalas movement, was arrested on September 25 by the Haitian police. He was interrogated by the new Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince, Claudy Gassant, a prominent Lavalas critic, on August 28. Yesterday his case was transferred to the Juge d’Instruction (Investigating Magistrate) for investigation. Mr. Civil remains in prison.
Mr. Civil was the subject of our May 16 Alert after he was arrested illegally as he entered the country from his exile in the Dominican Republic. He was freed on May 25.
The latest arrest is problematic for several reasons. First, it was made late at night, without a warrant. Second, one of the charges, use of a stolen vehicle, involves a car that Civil has owned for six years, and registered with the police several times. When Mr. Civil fled Haiti’s repression in 2004, the police themselves took the car (illegally) and used it for two years, returning it in late June 2006. The police have not proven that the car ever was stolen, but even if there was a problem with its chain of title, they could have invited Mr. Civil in for questioning rather than making a midnight arrest. Third, another charge involves illegal gun possession, but the weapons in question, two pistols, belonged to another passenger in the car when it was stopped, a police officer. The third charge, “association de malfaiteurs”, is a vague conspiracy charge that has been used frequently to keep political dissidents (including Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste and Yvon Neptune) in prison despite an absence of proof of criminal activity.
It is important to demonstrate to the officials working on Mr. Civil’s case that the world is watching, and is concerned about potential political persecution. In a case like this, which has not attracted international media attention, every letter can make a difference. So please write to Judge Durin Duret, the Investigating Magistrate, and urge him to treat this case quickly, fairly and professionally. A sample letter is below, in French and English (we do not know if Judge Duret reads English), feel free to customize it. Letters can be sent directly to Judge Duret by regular mail. Or you can send them to us by fax: (206) 350-7986 (a U.S. number) or email: email@example.com, and we will ensure that they are delivered promptly.
Me. Durin Duret
Près du Tribunal de première instance
Ministère de la Justice
18 Avenue Charles Sumner
Dear Judge Duret:
I am writing to urge you to ensure that the case of Mr. René Civil is treated with the utmost fairness and impartiality, with scrupulous respect for all of Mr. Civil’s rights under the Constitution of the Republic of Haiti, Haiti’s Code d’Instruction Criminelle, and International Law.
As you know, Mr. Civil is a prominent participant in national politics in Haiti. Whenever a political actor is arrested in any country, a concern is raised that the arrest was related to his political activity. In Mr. Civil’s case, this concern is especially acute since he was arrested illegally once before, on May 12, 2006.
The circumstances of Mr. Civil’s arrest on August 25- late at night, without a warrant- raise additional concerns. These concerns are magnified by the charges that the prosecutors have made against him. The first charge, for theft of a vehicle, involved a car that Mr. Civil has owned for six years, that has been registered with the police, and that was in police custody for two years from 2004-2006. The second charge, involving illegal weapons, relates to weapons in the possession of others in the car, not Mr. Civil. The third charge, association de malfaiteurs, has often been abused over the last two years, to justify the detention of political dissidents.
Mr. Civil’s case will be a test of how much the Haitian justice system has returned to the rule of law. I hope that I can count on you to demonstrate to the Haitian people and the International Community how well the justice system can work by conducting your investigation with fairness, speed and professionalism. If your investigation will require more than a few days, I hope that you seriously consider any request made by Mr. Civil for pre-trial release, in order to avoid the possibility that a person arrested for his legal political activities is imprisoned by your order.
Le 31 août 2006
Me Durin Duret
Près du Tribunal de Première Instance
Ministère de la Justice
18 Avenue Charles Sumner
Je vous prie de bien vouloir donner au dossier de M. René Civil le traitement le plus équitable et impartial qui soit, dans le respect absolu des droits de M. Civil conformément à la Constitution de la République d’Haïti, le Code d’Instruction Criminelle, et le Droit International.
Comme vous le savez, M. Civil est un acteur important dans la vie politique haïtienne. Dans tout pays du monde, dès qu’un acteur politique est arrêté, l’inquiétude d’une arrestation politique surgit. Dans le cas de M. Civil, cette inquiétude est particulièrement forte puisqu’il a été arrêté illégalement déjà, le 12 mai 2006.
Les circonstances de l’arrestation de M. Civil le 25 août- tard dans la nuit, sans mandat – donnent d’autres préoccupations qui s’amplifient avec les charges portées contre lui par le Commissaire du Gouvernement. La première charge, vol de véhicule, implique un véhicule que M. Civil possède depuis six ans, enregistré régulièrement à la police, et qui était entre les mains de la police pendant deux ans, soit de 2004 à 2006. La deuxième charge, détention illégale d’armes à feu, réfère à des armes en possession d’autres passagers du véhicule, et non en celle de M. Civil. La troisième charge, association de malfaiteurs, a souvent été utilisée de manière abusive pendant ces deux dernières années pour justifier la détention de dissidents politiques.
Le dossier de M. Civil prouvera dans quelle mesure le système de justice haïtien est retourné au Règne du Droit. J’espère pouvoir compter sur vous pour montrer au peuple haïtien et à la Communauté Internationale que le système de justice peut bien fonctionner en menant une enquête équitable, rapide et professionnelle. Si votre enquête requiert plus que quelques jours, je vous prie de considérer sérieusement toute demande de libération avant procès produite par M. Civil, ce pour éviter la possibilité qu’une personne arrêtée pour ses activités politiques soit emprisonnée sous vos ordres.
Veuillez recevoir, Honorable Magistrat, mes remerciements pour la considération que vous accorderez à la présente.
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. To receive Half-Hour for Haiti Action Alerts once per week, send an email to HalfHour4Haiti@ijdh.org.