Haitian lawyers request IACHR investigate gov’t role in suspicious death of Judge JS Joseph

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Mario Joseph, Av., Managing Attorney, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), Mario@ijdh.org, +509-3701-9879 (in Haiti – speaks French and Haitian Creole)

Nicole Phillips, Esq., Staff Attorney, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Nicole@ijdh.org, +509-4730-3359 (in Haiti – speaks English and French)

Haitian lawyers request the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate government’s role in suspicious death of Judge Jean Serge Joseph

(Port-au-Prince, August 6, 2013) – Yesterday, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) requested the assistance of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to investigate the Haitian government’s continued threats and intimidation of the judiciary.

The request was triggered by the recent death of prominent Judge Jean Serge Joseph, who passed away under suspicious circumstances two days after he reported being threatened by top officials, including President Michel Martelly. The Judge presided over a high-profile case in which the President’s wife and son are accused of corruption, money laundering, abuse of authority, and squandering of funds from the Public Treasury.

Last month, Judge Joseph summoned Prime Minister Lamothe and other top officials to testify in the corruption case.  Judge Joseph reported receiving threats to quash the case during a meeting held by President Martelly and Haiti’s Prime Minister, Minister of Justice and Public Security, and the Chief Judge of the Port-au-Prince district court. Judge Joseph refused, and two days later, on July 13, 2013, he was reported dead of a cerebral haemorrhage. A coroner in Montreal, Canada, concluded the “death could have been due to obscure circumstances,” and reportedly opened an investigation. According to his family, the Judge had never suffered from any serious pre-existing conditions.

“The death of Judge Joseph creates a chilling effect on lawyers and members of Haiti’s judiciary who seek to use the justice system to hold government officials accountable for corruption and other criminal actions,” said Mario Joseph. He adds that it’s “urgent for the IACHR to protect the rule of law in Haiti by launching an immediate investigation.”

The harassment of Judge Joseph is not the first time the Martelly administration has tried to intimidate Haiti’s legal community. Mario Joseph and the two lawyers who filed the case against Martelly’s family, André Michel and Newton St. Juste, have received repeated death threats. After a report in September, 2012, from a former prosecutor that Minister of Justice Jean Renel Sanon ordered the arrest of several attorneys and the closure of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, the IACHR adopted precautionary measures “to guarantee the life and physical integrity of Mr. Mario Joseph,” André Michel and Newton St. Juste. Attorney André Michel is currently the subject of political intimidation. Since Judge Joseph’s death, a magistrate appeared at Mr. Michel’s office without a prosecutor while police surrounded the building for hours. Mr. Michel escaped arrest for now.

Mr. Joseph reports that the latest judicial crisis follows a line of other scandals, including: corruption, kidnapping, drug trafficking, murder, and a refusal to maintain a path toward credible, inclusive, and democratic elections.

A copy of the BAI’s letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is available in English and French at: http://www.ijdh.org/?p=45070.