Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Aristide’s Return to Haiti

Prominent lawyers and law professors’ letter to Cheryl Mills, U.S. Department of State Chief of Staff, criticizes U.S. Government interference with former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s constitutional and human right to return from forced exile.

Aristide’s Return to Haiti: Prominent Lawyers and Law Professors Urge U.S. to Respect Human Rights (IJDH)


March 17, 2011

David Lerner, Rip­tide Com­mu­ni­ca­tions,, 212 260‑5000
Brian Con­can­non Jr., Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti,, 541–263-0029

Aristide’s Return to Haiti: Promi­nent Lawyers and Law Pro­fes­sors Urge U.S. to Respect Human Rights

Promi­nent lawyers and law pro­fes­sors today wrote to Cheryl Mills, U.S. Depart­ment of State Chief of Staff, crit­i­ciz­ing United States Gov­ern­ment inter­fer­ence with for­mer Hait­ian Pres­i­dent Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s con­sti­tu­tional and human right to return from forced exile to Haiti.

Pres­i­dent Aris­tide is expected to leave South Africa for Haiti on Thurs­day, March 17. On Mon­day, Depart­ment of State spokesper­son Mark Toner urged the South African gov­ern­ment to pre­vent the plane’s depar­ture before Haiti’s upcom­ing elections.

The let­ter to Chief of Staff Mills explains that U.S. Government’s inter­fer­ence in Pres­i­dent Aristide’s return vio­lates his rights guar­an­teed by Haiti’s Con­sti­tu­tion and inter­na­tional law.

Bill Quigley, Legal Direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights and Pro­fes­sor at Loy­ola New Orleans Law School stated that “the United States try­ing to con­trol when any Hait­ian cit­i­zen— espe­cially a for­mer President—can enter Haiti is out­ra­geous. It vio­lates a stack of bind­ing inter­na­tional human rights treaties. I felt com­pelled to speak out to defend both Pres­i­dent Aristide’s human rights and the Amer­i­can tra­di­tion of rule of law that I teach in my classroom.”

The let­ter notes that Mr. Toner’s expressed jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for restrict­ing Pres­i­dent Aristide’s right to return home—a fear that he might “impact” elec­tions sched­uled for Sun­day, March 20, is an addi­tional vio­la­tion of Pres­i­dent Aristide’s rights to free expres­sion and free­dom to take part in the con­duct of pub­lic affairs. The let­ter finds such state­ments “espe­cially dis­turb­ing” com­ing from a State Depart­ment that has noted human rights experts on its staff.

Brian Con­can­non Jr., Direc­tor of the Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti, added that “while Sec­re­tary Clin­ton has been pro­mot­ing democ­racy and the rule of law in the Mid­dle East, the State Depart­ment has been under­min­ing it in Haiti. It is time for the U.S. Gov­ern­ment to prac­tice in Haiti what it preaches elsewhere.”

Over 100 lawyers, pro­fes­sors, stu­dents and other indi­vid­u­als have signed the let­ter, includ­ing law pro­fes­sors from Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, New York Uni­ver­sity, Uni­ver­sity of San Fran­cisco and Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity Law Schools, and lawyers from promi­nent human rights and civil rights orga­ni­za­tions through­out the United States, Canada and Europe.


March 16, 2011

Cheryl Mills, Esq.
Coun­selor and Chief of Staff
U.S. Depart­ment of State
2201 C Street NW
Wash­ing­ton, DC 20520

Re: United States Gov­ern­ment Oppo­si­tion to the Right of Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aris­tide to Return

Dear Chief of Staff Mills:

The under­signed lawyers and law pro­fes­sors are writ­ing to express our deep con­cern that the United States Depart­ment of State (DOS) is actively inter­fer­ing with the human and con­sti­tu­tional right of for­mer Hait­ian Pres­i­dent Jean-Bertrand Aris­tide to return to his country.

As you know, Pres­i­dent Aris­tide was removed from Haiti on Feb­ru­ary 29, 2004, on board a U.S. Gov­ern­ment plane.1 He has not returned to the coun­try since then.

Accord­ing to numer­ous press reports, on Mon­day March 14, DOS spokesper­son Mark Toner stated that “[w]e encour­age the South African Gov­ern­ment as a com­mit­ted part­ner to Haiti’s sta­bil­ity to urge for­mer Pres­i­dent Aris­tide to delay his return until after the elec­tions,” and that “[w]e would urge for­mer Pres­i­dent Aris­tide to delay his return until after the elec­toral process has con­cluded.…” These state­ments, read in light of pre­vi­ous United States Gov­ern­ment efforts to dimin­ish Pres­i­dent Aristide’s pres­ence and influ­ence in Haiti,2 demon­strate a delib­er­ate effort to restrict Pres­i­dent Aristide’s abil­ity to travel to Haiti.

Haiti’s Constitution3 guar­an­tees the right of any Hait­ian national to return to the coun­try. The Inter­na­tional Covenant on Civil and Polit­i­cal Rights (ICCPR), which is bind­ing on both the United States and Haiti, declares that “[n]o one shall be arbi­trar­ily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”4
The DOS jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for restrict­ing Pres­i­dent Aristide’s con­sti­tu­tional and human rights– that his “return this week could only be seen as a con­scious choice to impact Haiti’s elec­tions” is itself a vio­la­tion of his polit­i­cal rights, includ­ing his right to free expression,5 free­dom of association,6 and free­dom to take part in the con­duct of pub­lic affairs.7

It is espe­cially dis­turb­ing to see such dis­re­spect for internationally-accepted human rights from a Depart­ment that has made human rights an impor­tant part of its for­eign pol­icy, and that includes such noted human rights experts as Legal Advi­sor Koh and Assis­tant Sec­re­tary Posner.

We would urge you to recon­sider the DOS pol­icy of dis­cour­ag­ing Pres­i­dent Aristide’s exer­cise of his right to return to Haiti in light of the applic­a­ble legal stan­dards, and to announce unequiv­o­cally that the United States gov­ern­ment sup­ports Pres­i­dent Aristide’s right to return, and dis­cour­ages other coun­tries from inter­fer­ing with that right.

Very truly yours,

Law Pro­fes­sors, Lawyers & Law Students*

[Let­ter with cita­tions and sig­na­tures attached]

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