Human Rights Defender Murder is Part of a Pattern

The recent murder of human rights activist Daniel Dorsanvil and his wife is part of a pattern of threats, intimidation, and even murder of those who have attempted to stand up to human rights violations in Haiti. In this article, IJDH’s own Nicole Phillips outlines those violations, steps that international organizations have taken against them, and how the Martelly government can help.

Leading Human Rights Activist Daniel Dorsainvil and Wife Killed in Haiti

Nicole Phillips, RYOT News
February 18, 2014

On Saturday afternoon, February 8, 2014, Daniel Dorsainvil and his wife Girldy Lareche were shot and killed on a street in Port-au-Prince by an unidentified man who fled the scene on a motorcycle.  The double homicide left three children without their parents, and sent shock waves throughout Haiti. Haitian police have not confirmed the identity of the killer or a motive for the murders. But many Haitians, including human rights defenders, believe that the couple’s murder was a political assassination related to Dorsanvil’s work.

Dorsanvil was the General Coordinator of the Platform for Haitian Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights (known by the French acronym “POHDH”), an association of eight non-profit Haitian rights institutions that have been publically critical of Haiti’s “judicial-political scandals,” “human rights abuses” and “deteriorating social and economic conditions” under President Michel Martelly’s government. A few weeks before the murder, POHDH had issued press releases and a report criticizing the government’s refusal to hold timely local and parliamentary elections and the systematic impunity enjoyed by current and former government officials, including former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

Fears that Dorsanvil and Lareche were victims of political assassination are reasonable, given recent threats against human rights defenders and those critical of the Martelly government. Several lawyers and judges who challenged government corruption and impunity through the court system have received death threats, police surveillance and false criminal charges.

Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph, a finalist for the 2013 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders, received repeated death threats in 2012 for his work on several high profile cases calling for government accountability, including representing victims of Duvalier in criminal court. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), requested that Haiti adopt any necessary measures to guarantee Joseph’s life and personal integrity after a former prosecutor reported that the Minister of Justice ordered Joseph’s unlawful arrest and the closure of his office, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (International Lawyers Office).

Several other Haitian lawyers have been under attack by the Martelly administration, as documented by Amnesty International. Among them is attorney Patrice Florvilus, who also received precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission in December 2013, after Florvilus received threats and a criminal summons for crimes he did not commit in retaliation for his legal representation of police brutality victims.

Attorney Andre Michel was illegally arrested in October 2013, after receiving security and arrest threats related to a corruption case he filed against President Martelly’s wife and son.  Michel and his co-counsel in the corruption case, Newton St. Juste, had been protected by the same precautionary measures issued for Mario Joseph in 2012.

In July 2013, the judge who presided over the corruption case filed by Attorneys Michel and St. Juste, Judge Jean Serge Joseph, died under suspicious circumstances two days after he reported being threatened by top officials, including President Martelly.

Together this pattern of threats and intimidation create fear among activists, lawyers and judges that they may be the next target for standing up in favor of human rights.  Adding to this fear is the Haitian government’s lack of political will to investigate these crimes, particularly when police, judges or political leaders are implicated.  For this reason, Amnesty International issued a statement last week urging the Haitian government to investigate this double homicide.

Dorsanvil and Lareche’s murders came two days after President Martelly met with President Barak Obama in Washington, where President Obama praised President Martelly for his leadership. President Obama also committed to deepening the U.S. relationship with Haiti and working together on human rights reforms.

President Martelly can show his commitment right now by ensuring that his police, prosecutors and judges promptly investigate and prosecute this case and all cases of violence and intimidation against human rights defenders.  As Chiara Liguori, a researcher with Amnesty International, put it, “It is the safety and the work of human rights defenders in the whole country which is at stake.”

Nicole Phillips is based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and law professor at the Univeriste de la Fondation Dr. Aristide.  For more information on IJDH’s work defending Haiti’s human rights defenders, click here.

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