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Release Political Prisoner and Democracy Activist Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste (Again)
First the good news: our mobilization is having an impact. The grassroots outrage at the July 6 Cite Soleil shootings by UN Peacekeepers forced the UN to abandon its claim of no civilian casualties, issue an apology and even announce an investigation. Second, the movement for human rights in Haiti is accelerating. The last 10 days have seen protests against the Cite Soleil killings in 15 cities in Haiti, Brazil, Canada, France and the U.S. Amnesty International has declared Fr. Jean-Juste a prisoner of conscience,and according to U.S. government sources the Embassy in Port-au-Prince has been inundated with calls about his case.
The bad news is that the repression in Haiti continues to mount as the elections scheduled for October, November and December approach. Catholic activist Paul Raymond was illegally expelled from his refuge in the Dominican Republic and illegally imprisoned in Haiti on Friday, July 22. Fr. Jean-Juste appeared in court last Wednesday, and although the judge found no reason to hold him, the police arrested him the next day, July 21, again illegally, and he remains in jail.
Fr. Jean-Juste's most recent arrest has nothing to do with fighting crime. He was arrested after he had been attacked by a mob while officiating at the funeral of writer Jacques Roche. The police initially assured him he was in protective custody, and then claimed he was charged with Roche's murder. When it was pointed out that Fr. Jean-Juste was in Miami at the time of the murder, the charges were changed to kidnapping. No judge issued an arrest warrant, and Fr. Jean-Juste has not been allowed access to a judge, despite a constitutional requirement that he see a judge within 48 hours. To their discredit, United Nations Civilian Police participated in the illegal arrest, by handing Fr. Jean-Juste to the Haitian police without ensuring that he would be treated legally.
Fr. Jean-Juste's arrest is well timed to silence the Interim Haitian Government's (IGH) most prominent opponent in the lead up to the elections. Fr. Jean-Juste has insisted that there can be no fair campaigning or voting while hundreds of political prisoners fill the jails and police regularly open fire on legal anti-government demonstrations. Most Haitians agree with him: less than two weeks before the end of the registration process on August 9, less than 15% of eligible voters have even registered. Many of those who have registered stated that they did so because registration is required for the national identity card and that they have no intention to vote.
Fr. Jean-Juste's detention prevented him from speaking out about Sunday's National Voter Registration Day. It prevented him from commenting on yesterday's announcement by former Lavalas party legislators now close to the IGH and the U.S. that the party would participate in elections (the Lavalas party denied that the announcement was true, see Aristide's Party to Run in Haiti Elections). His continuing detention will continue to silence Haiti's most influential political dissident.
The United States Government is the principal patron of both the IGH and its efforts to marginalize the Lavalas party. The U.S. could free Fr. Jean-Juste and stop the repression immediately. The U.S. installed Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who had lived in Florida for decades. America tax dollars fund the lion's share of the IGH budget, American guns arm the repressive police, and American diplomatic support shelters the IGH from the consequences of its human rights record. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega and other American officials have pushed both the IGH and UN to take a harder line against Lavalas supporters, while encouraging the former legislators to jump abandon the party leadership's call to boycott elections unless the repression stops.
ACTION: Please write, fax or call the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, to insist that the U.S. ensure that Fr. Jean-Juste is freed immediately, and that the repression against political dissidents stops. The important point to make is that the U.S. cannot continue to hide behind claims that it is urging the Haitian government to follow the law. A sample letter is below. Faxing may be difficult; Ambassador Foley's telephone number is 011-509-223-4711.
Fax: 011-509-223-9038 or 011-509-223-1641
Hon. James B. Foley
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti
3400 Port-au-Prince Place
Washington, D.C. 20521-3400
Dear Ambassador Foley:
I am writing to urge you to ensure that Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste is immediately freed from his illegal detention, and that the IGH immediately stops its campaign of repression against political dissidents.
As you know, Fr. Jean-Juste was arrested without a warrant on July 21, after he had been attacked at a funeral service, and is being held illegally. You also know that this is merely the latest in a long series of politically-motivated attacks against Fr. Jean-Juste, including seven weeks of illegal incarceration last fall, and interrogations by police and a judge on July 15, 18 and 20.
I appreciate that your Embassy has spoken to the Interim Government of Haiti about political prisoners in the past, but this is simply not enough. The persistence of the persecution of Fr. Jean-Juste and the holding of political prisoners illegally for more than sixteen months demonstrates that the IGH has little respect for the Haitian Constitution and international law. Ordinary moral suasion obviously does not work here.
The United States Government, as the IGH's principal patron, has the leverage to ensure justice for Fr. Jean-Juste and Haiti's other political prisoners. You personally implemented a series of sanctions and stronger measures against Haiti's elected government in 2003 and 2004 because you opposed some of that government's policies. Failing to use those, and even more forceful measures in response to the IGH's campaign of terror against political dissidents that is shocking the world's conscience implies support for or acquiescence in the repression.
I am confident that your intervention could ensure that Fr. Jean-Juste returns to his parish and resumes his neighborhood feeding programs and other important work. Please set an example that justice matters by doing everything in your power, including withholding all economic, political and weapons support, unless the IGH immediately releases Fr. Jean-Juste.