By Amnesty International
Human rights defenders Dérilus Mérilus and Sanièce Petitphat have received death threats since they helped a rape victim to seek justice. Amnesty International believes they, and other members of the organisation they work for, are in grave danger.
Dérilus Mérilus and Sanièce Petitphat work for the Comité des Droits Humains de Savanette (Savanette Human Rights Committee), based in Savanette, near the border with the Dominican Republic. They have been working on behalf of a 26-year-old disabled woman who was raped on 8 September: they were the first to help her to contact the local judicial authorities, which led to the alleged rapist being arrested, though he was released shortly afterwards. They and other members of the Human Righs Committee, as well as another NGO working in the area, the Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés (Support Group for Refugees and Repatriated Persons, GARR) intervened, and the police arrested the man again on 5 October.
The police moved him to Mirebalais, where there is a courthouse. Since then, family and friends of the alleged rapist have threatened Dérilus Mérilus and Sanièce Petitphat to their faces, saying “une fois libéré il prendra sa revanche” (once he’s freed he will take his revenge). According to the Savanette Human Rights Committee, the family of the alleged rapist have given the victim’s father 20,000 Haitian Gourdes (US$560) to drop the case. On 16 October, the alleged rapist was released after the Prosecutor ruled that there was no longer a criminal case for him to answer. He has reportedly returned to Savanette.
The Savanette Human Rights Committee is part of a network of 37 Haitian and Dominican organizations working for the promotion and defence of human rights in the border area, where there is a minimal police presence and effectively no rule of law.
The work of human rights defenders and activists in Haiti is difficult due to the widespread impunity, apathy and corruption within the judicial system. In September 2006, human rights defender Esterne Bruner, who had been trying to get the authorities to take action against gang members in Port-au-Prince, was shot dead. No one is known to have been detained or charged in relation to his murder.
Impunity is especially prevalent in cases of violence against women in Haiti. The number of rapes reported has been increasing, particularly in the border area, but the number of prosecutions has remained insignificant. Victims of sexual abuse have little access to justice, crimes are not adequately investigated and the perpetrators are not brought to justice. In rural areas of Haiti, where there is no effective rule of law, rapes, particularly of minors, are commonly settled out of court, with the victim’s family accepting payment from the alleged perpetrator to drop charges.