On December 21, 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a decision that the State of Haiti violated its international human rights obligations when it illegally arrested, detained and tortured Mr. Lysias Fleury as punishment for his work as a human rights defender in that country.
Mr. Fleury became known to the local police because of his human rights investigations of the Haitian penal system and prison conditions. On June 24, 2002, two uniformed police officers and three ununiformed men entered Mr. Fleury’s home, arrested him, and forcibly dragged him into a pickup truck while his family watched helplessly. The officers did not have a warrant for his arrest and did not inform Mr. Fleury of any formal charges against him. They took him to the Bon Repos police precinct, where they imprisoned him in a six-foot by four-foot dirty cell that he had to share with seven other prisoners.
During his seventeen-hour detention, Mr. Fleury was forced to clean up another prisoner’s fecal matter with his bare hands and deprived of food and water. Officers also asked him whether he was continuing his human rights work in the prison, then proceeded to beat and kick him 64 times so that he could no longer sustain his own body weight. The officers then hit him 15 times on both sides of his head simultaneously so as to perforate his eardrum. Near death, the police released him for medical treatment.
Fearing for his life and for the lives and safety of his wife and children, Mr. Fleury went into hiding and rarely visited his family. After filing an unsuccessful complaint with the General Inspection of the Haitian National Police, Mr. Fleury sought international relief, filing a petition with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, a regional human rights body that investigates and receives human rights claims from countries belonging to the Organization of American States or their nationals. Mr. Fleury decided to seek asylum in 2008 while visiting the United States to testify before the Commission; his asylum petition was granted, and he and his family now live in the United States.
The Commission referred Mr. Fleury’s petition to the Inter-American Court, the highest human rights authority of the Organization of American States, in 2009. The Court found that the police brutality and torture and the government’s failure to protect Mr. Fleury or allow him access to justice violated several human rights guaranteed by the Convention. Accordingly, the Court ordered Haiti to lead an inquiry to determine and sanction the persons responsible for these human rights violations, to publish relevant parts of the Court’s judgment in the journal of Haitian laws and in a national newspaper, to compensate Mr. Fleury and his family for their injuries, and to establish a mandatory human rights training program for all police and judicial officers. Additionally, Haiti must submit a report on the status of its implementation of the decision to the Court within one year.
“After years of seeking justice, my family and I are very happy to have this decision,” said Mr. Fleury. A human rights lawyer in Haiti, Mr. Fleury explained, “It’s important to use the legal system to fight for human rights, and I hope this decision will help improve the human rights situation in Haiti.” Mr. Fleury also hopes to establish a nonprofit organization to promote human rights in Haiti and around the world. “Violations of human rights exist everywhere. I want to use my legal experience in human rights to help people and to spread knowledge of human rights in Haiti and in other countries.”
“We believe that the Court’s decision will help Mr. Fleury and his family in their process to move past the horrific abuse they have endured at the hands of the Haitian National Police,” said David Baluarte, a Practitioner-in-Residence at the International Human Rights Law Clinic of American University Washington College of Law, in Washington, DC, which represented Mr. Fleury in this case. “Together with the Fleury family,” continued Mr. Baluarte, “we hope that the orders to address the situation of impunity in this case and to establish a human rights training program for police and judicial officials will provide a framework for the Haitian State to prevent these human rights abuses in the future.”
“The next step,” explained Mr. Baluarte, “is for Haiti to fully implement the reparations orders by the Court in a timely manner. The Court’s ruling is final and binding, and we will do all we can to ensure Haiti atones for the human rights violations committed against Mr. Fleury and his family.”