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6596: Re: What happened to Jackson Joanis? (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur <charlesarthur@hotmail.com>

Haitians fight deportation with torture defense

By JODY BENJAMIN, Sun-Sentinel
Web-posted: 7:22 a.m. Dec. 1, 2000

As a powerful police captain during three years of dictatorship in Haiti, 
Jackson Joanis condoned the killings and brutal beatings of dozens of 
students, journalists and others, human rights groups charge.
     In 1995, he was convicted in absentia in Haiti for his role in the 
murder of businessman Antoine Izmery, an ardent supporter of then-ousted 
President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
     But that sordid history may not be enough to swiftly boot Joanis out of 
the country, as immigration officials vowed to do to him and 13 other 
alleged persecutors two weeks ago. His attorney will argue today in Miami 
immigration court that Joanis faces torture if he is returned to Haiti and 
therefore should be held here for the time being.
     "Certainly he could be killed," said immigration attorney Carlo Jean 
Joseph, who represents half the group picked up in an INS sweep on Nov. 15 
and 16. The newly re-elected Aristide regime would target Joanis, according 
to his attorney.
     As it develops, the case will mark a key test of the international 
Convention Against Torture that the United States signed six years ago. The 
convention would theoretically allow Joanis and the others to stay here 
because it has a loophole: An individual?s past crimes are no 
     Undesirables with political ties to ousted regimes have been quick to 
recognize and exploit the loop hole, according to the Federation for 
American Immigration Reform, a group that favors tightening immigration 
     "It?s a pattern we?ve noticed," said Jack Martin, the group?s special 
projects director. "We?re concerned about it."
     Under a controversial 1996 immigration reform law, the INS Immigration 
and Naturalization Service has deported thousands of aliens with histories 
of minor convictions. Yet the United States? signature on the international 
convention may keep the agency from deporting torturers.
     "It is extremely ironic," said immigration attorney Socheat Chea, who 
represented a German-born woman facing deportation because of a street 
brawl. Mary Anne Gehris won the right to remain in the United States only 
after winning a rare nod from the Georgia Board of Pardons.
     "The person that has done a lot of bad things to people gets a chance, 
while my client, who has pulled a woman?s hair, does not," Chea said. "There 
is almost no logic behind it."
     If successful, Joanis? long-shot argument could keep him in the country 
? at least until conditions improve in Haiti.
     The U.S. government has rejected the option of trying the alleged 
persecutors because of concerns about whether it has the authority to do so. 
Their crimes were committed before Congress ratified the torture convention.
     Some legal experts criticize that strategy. People like Joanis should 
be tried here, they say.
     "Our obligation isn?t just to get rid of them, but to make sure that 
they are brought to justice in a fair process," said Morton Sklar, director 
of the World Organization Against Torture.
     The first salvo in a battle brewing over the fate of the group picked 
up two weeks ago ? a Peruvian, an Angolan and a dozen Haitians ? will be 
fired in immigration court today when Joseph, the attorney for several of 
the Haitians, seeks their release on bond.
     Joseph argues that the INS improperly rounded up and detained his 
clients. He says Joanis? conviction is unfair because he was not present in 
Haiti to defend himself.
     "There is a principle here that has been violated," Joseph said. "These 
people all applied for asylum and their cases were not yet resolved. INS 
acted prematurely. If we let them get away with that, then what is to stop 
them from picking up any (alien) without a court order?"
     The INS insists it acted properly and will vigorously oppose bond for 
Joanis and the six others, said Dan Vara, INS legal counsel. The agency 
intends to deport the remaining seven as soon as the immigration court 
issues final orders in their cases.
     "A person who believes they may be tortured can ask for an order 
preventing their removal, but there is a high burden of proof," Vara said. 
"We are certain that these people are not eligible."
     INS moved all 14 aliens last week to Manatee County Jail in Bradenton 
because authorities were worried about their safety at Krome Detention 
Center, Vara said.
     "There was concern about possible conflicts between the arrested 
persecutors and the rest of the INS detainee population," he explained.
     Observers said the November INS arrest sweep was unusual, noting that 
there have been complaints for years about persecutors from Haiti and other 
countries living in the United States.
     On Thursday, a Boynton Beach-based advocacy group, International 
Educational Missions, sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno asking 
that the Justice Department aggressively seek out hundreds of other alleged 
torturers thought to be living in the country.
     Typically, human rights groups notify the agency that a particular 
person is in the United States, even going so far as to gathering 
information useful to prosecutors.
     "We have complained that it is too easy for people who have committed 
torture and other atrocities to come in (to the United States) under the 
radar screen," said Reedy Brody, chair of Human Rights Watch, Americas 
division. "The laws are like Swiss cheese."
     Vara said INS agency heads sent out a directive last March telling 
local districts to focus on rooting out torturers. It just so happened that 
the INS Miami district had several cases pending, he said.
     Joanis, 42, came to South Florida in December 1994 on a tourist visa, 
according to his wife, Katy. He lived in a house on the 5800 block of Grant 
Street in Hollywood. He worked for a short while as a cab driver before 
switching to his cousin?s construction business, she said.
     He applied for asylum in 1996.
     In September 1995, a Haitian court had convicted Joanis and 13 others 
for complicity in the killing of Izmery, the Aristide supporter.
     INS prosecutors raised that issue at his asylum hearing. They said the 
conviction made Joanis ineligible under U.S. immigration law.
     Joanis is listed as an abuser of human rights in a 1994 State 
Department report to Congress. The abuses occurred during Joanis? three-year 
tenure as commander of the Anti-Gang and Investigation Unit of the Haitian 
police. His position made him an extremely powerful government official.
     "Suspects brought in for questioning at the Anti-Gang Unit were 
regularly beaten with fists and clubs," according to that report, which was 
introduced at the hearing. "If the beating got out of hand, as reportedly 
often happened, the victim was finished off and the body dumped."
     An immigration judge denied Joanis? asylum application.
     But then his attorney filed to reopen the case under the anti-torture 
convention on the grounds that Joanis could be killed if he were sent back 
to Haiti. That case is still pending before the Board of Immigration 
     "My husband filed a claim for asylum because he would be harmed in 
Haiti," Katy Joanis said during an interview this week at Joseph?s 
Lauderhill office. She said that after Aristide was restored to power, she 
persuaded her husband to flee.
     Now, if her husband were returned and subsequently tortured or killed, 
it would be the fault of the U.S. government, she said. "His life would be 
on their hands."

SEE THE HAITI SUPPORT GROUP WEB SITE:  http://www.gn.apc.org/haitisupport

The Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for 
justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.

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