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Iachr Denounces Haiti For Political Persecution Of Yvon Neptune


The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has made public a 60-page denunciation of the political persecution that Yvon Neptune, a former Prime Minister of Haiti, has endured at the hands of the Haitian government for the past four years. "From the beginning, the State failed its obligation to protect Mr. Neptune’s right to be heard by a court competent to hear the charges against him, as well as to an effective recourse," the IACHR ruled. It concluded that Haiti HAS violated 11 different provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights by imprisoning Neptune and keeping the case hanging over his head two years after his release from prison. Whether such high profile and detailed criticism (first made public in June) will finally end Yvon Neptune’s legal battles remains to be seen.

 

The IACHR’s binding decision was that the Haitian government must immediately serve an appeals court order that would help end Neptune‘s four year legal nightmare, but six weeks after the IACHR ruling, the order remains unserved. The IACHR also gave Haiti a year to pay $95,000 USD in costs and damages to Neptune, and two years to drastically improve prison conditions in Haiti. The Haitian government’s silence and inaction has prompted Neptune to cautiously speak out about his precarious legal situation.

 

Yvon Neptune served as Prime Minister of Haiti from 2002-2004 in the democratically elected government of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. After Haiti’s February 29, 2004 coup d’état, the unelected Interim Government of Haiti (IGH), backed by the UN Security Council, assumed power for two years and imprisoned hundreds of political opponents, especially officials and supporters of the Famni Lavalas (FL) party founded by Aristide. It also stacked the judiciary and police with its loyalists.

 

Neptune‘s plight began on June 27, 2004, when he turned himself in to the police after hearing on the radio that an arrest warrant had been issued against him. He was accused of participating in the "La Scierie Massacre," an alleged attack by Lavalas supporters in the La Scierie neighborhood of St.Marc. Two years after the arrest, the Haitian Appeals Court prosecutor conceded that there was no credible evidence of Neptune‘s involvement. Nevertheless, Neptune would spend 25 months in prison, including nearly a year in the National Penitentiary which is notorious for its appalling conditions. The case against Neptune collapsed further when subsequent investigations, including one by the United Nations, concluded that the "La Scierie Massacre" was in fact a battle between two armed groups, with casualties on both sides.

 

In July of 2006, two months after a democratically elected government finally took over from the IGH, Yvon Neptune was granted provisional release for health reasons. The presidential election of 2006 was won by Rene Preval in a stunning rebuke to those who backed the coup of 2004, including the UN Security Council. Like Neptune, Preval was a former Prime Minister under Aristide. Repression against Lavalas eased after the election, but the impact of the IGH continues to make itself felt.

 

The charges against Yvon Neptune remain in force to this day because the Preval administration has refused to serve a Haitian appeals court order that finally dismissed the case in April of 2007. The Preval government told the IACHR that it does not have the power to serve the appeals court order (without clearly specifying who did have the power). The IACHR dismissed the government’s argument out of hand. "Officials serve appeals court orders every day." explained Brian Concannon, Yvon Neptune’s lawyer before the IACHR, "The government could easily do that tomorrow."

 

While Yvon Neptune continues to be hounded for his noninvolvement in a debunked "massacre", he is better off than his codefendant, Ronald Dauphin, who is still in prison after four years, with no trial scheduled.

 

Father Gerard Jean-Juste, another prominent Lavalas activist who became a political prisoner under the IGH, did not have charges against him dropped until June, more than two years after Preval’s election.

 

Why have Lavalas activists been persecuted years after an election that should have put an end to their troubles? A compelling explanation was offered by US journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina who lived and worked in Haiti for years:

 

"After initially boycotting the elections, Lavalas finally supports Preval’s candidacy in 2006 with clearly stated objectives in mind. First and foremost was to stop the relentless political repression and persecution they suffered after Aristide was ousted in February of 2004. Secondly, they wanted to free all of the Lavalas political prisoners…, lastly but equally important, was their call for the return of Aristide from exile. None of these demands have been fully realized because Preval was eventually saddled with what the UN and the international community tout as a ‘coalition government’. This concept of ‘coalition’ forced Preval to abandon the demands of his electorate…."

 

Under pressure from the US and its allies, Preval’s government appointments included prominent supporters of the coup and the IGH – people like Raymond Joseph, who remained Haiti‘s ambassador to the US, Maggy Durce, Minister of Commerce, and Marie-Laurence Jocelyne Lassegue, Women’s Condition Ministry.

 

There were also major problems with the elections that were finally held in 2006. Aside from the widespread repression of Lavalas supporters and leaders, compelling evidence of fraud intended to block Preval’s victory emerged during the presidential election. A shortage of voting centers, especially in Lavalas strongholds, also imposed major sacrifices on Haiti‘s poorest voters. At the presidential level these barriers were overcome by Preval’s name recognition and the sheer determination of his supporters – who staged massive protests when evidence of fraud surfaced. However, at the legislative level the repressive tactics of the IGH deprived Preval of significant parliamentary support. In fact, Preval was forced to mount a remarkably low key campaign in order to avoid violence against his supporters – something lesser known candidates could not afford to do.

 

Brian Concannon has argued "IGH holdovers in the executive branch may be less important than the ones in the judiciary." His point is underscored by the fact that Judge Cluny Pierre Jules, who played major role in the persecution of Yvon Neptune, is an IGH appointee who remains on the bench, as does Judge Peres-Paul, responsible for the imprisonment of Father Gerard Jean-Juste.

 

Aside from IGH appointed judges, the vehemently anti-Lavalas Haitian human rights group, the National Network for the Defense of Human Right (RNDDH), relentlessly pursued Yvon Neptune. Led by Pierre Esperance, RNDDH has received over a hundred thousand dollars from the Canadian government since 2004 while it was still known as the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR). The funding requests to Ottawa explicitly budgeted for the prosecution of Yvon Neptune and his codefendants. During an earlier period NCHR was funded by the US government through its New York office. In March of 2004, the IGH formally agreed to arrest anyone that Pierre Esperance’s group denounced as a criminal. The warrant issued against Yvon Neptune listed all the allegations that RNDDH made against him. RNDDH not only opposed Yvon Neptune’s provisional release in 2006, it even objected to special medical provisions which were made for him while he was incarcerated. RNDDH did not reply to a request made by HaitiAnalysis for a comment on the IACHR ruling. However, an RNDDH representative was quoted in the July 11 issue of The Nouvelliste, a Haitian Newspaper, stressing that the IACHR did not rule on the truth or falsehood of the allegations made against Yvon Neptune. However, RNDDH have never produced a formal report substantiating its allegations against Neptune and others, or even a list of the names of the alleged victims in St. Marc, despite requests made the head of the UN Human Rights Commission in Haiti

 

By telephone, Yvon Neptune told HaitiAnalysis that he found the IACHR ruling "encouraging" but that he "would not venture to guess" why the Preval administration has still not served the court order dismissing the case. Neptune recalled a "strange" and "misinformed" public statement that Preval made in September of 2007 in which the President claimed that the Haitian Senate would fulfill its responsibilities over the case. Neptune explained that under the Haitian constitution the Chamber of Deputies must first decide if allegations against a high public official are serious enough to warrant referral to the Senate which then functions as a special court to try the case. If the Preval Administration finally serves the appeals court order dismissing the case against Neptune then the State Prosecutor or any of the plaintiffs could possibly choose to appeal to Haiti‘s Supreme Court. They would have five days to do so or the case would be closed for good.

 

Asked if a shift in Preval’s loyalties has taken place since the election of 2006, Neptune acknowledged that "many facts raise serious questions" about Preval’s commitment to the people who elected him. However, Neptune hastened to add that he cannot answer those "serious questions" with any degree of confidence. Neptune stressed that he has been very isolated from public life even after his release from prison and that he can only use media reports to judge Preval’s actions. Is the lingering repression against Lavalas leaders aimed at keeping Aristide out of Haiti? Neptune‘s answer is that there are certainly people "within the machinery of government" who would resort to that.

 

Brian Concannon believes that Haiti is slowly rebuilding but that the damage done by the IGH to the judiciary and police will take five to ten years to repair. Asked if the IACHR’s decision will finally prompt the dismissal of the case against Yvon Neptune, Concannon replied "I would be surprised if the government does not at least serve the order soon. Then again, I am surprised they didn’t do it 15 months ago." 

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