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8675: This Week in Haiti 19:17 7/11/2001 (fwd)
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* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
July 11 - 17, 2001
Vol. 19, No. 17
THE JEAN DOMINIQUE MURDER INVESTIGATION:
WHAT DOES ARISTIDE’S SILENCE MEAN?
(Second of two parts)
Last week, Judge Claudy Gassant resumed his post and his
investigation of the Apr. 3, 2000 assassination of Radio Haiti
Inter’s director, Jean Dominique, and the station’s guardian,
On Jun. 13, the examining magistrate had resigned and removed
himself from the case to protest Justice Minister Gary Lissade’s
apparent refusal to provide him with adequate security and to
chastise a police chief who had repeatedly harassed him. Gassant
also demanded action against Judge Jean Gabriel Ambroise, another
examining magistrate who had illegally meddled in the
investigation at the behest of Sen. Dany Toussaint. The senator
is a prominent figure in the Lavalas Family party, who has been
repeatedly questioned about the murders and may eventually be
indicted. After three weeks of private encouragement from friends
and of public assurances from Lissade that police protection
would be improved, Gassant has now resumed his inquest with
He hit a wall immediately, however. Gassant summoned Toussaint
for questioning on Jul. 9, but the senator refused to comply on
the grounds that the judge is biased against him. Lise Pierre-
Pierre, the head of the civil court, has to decide whether
Toussaint’s formal challenge has any merit, but Toussaint has
also contested her impartiality, putting in question whether he
will respect her ruling if she keeps Gassant on the case.
Others closely following the investigation say that Toussaint has
no grounds to challenge Gassant. “The right to challenge is not
applicable here,” explained Patrick Elie, former Secretary of
State for Public Security and a founder of the group Echo Voix
Jean Dominique (EVJD). “Gassant is the judge investigating the
case, not trying it. You cannot challenge the judge who is just
Toussaint’s challenge is based on the illegal questioning of
Gassant’s detainees in the National Penitentiary in June by Judge
Ambroise, who, as a result, has been suspended for six months.
Pierre Lespérance of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights
(NCHR) argued that a Toussaint’s legal challenge cannot issue
from an illegal investigation and deemed the move a “delaying
In another development, Haitian authorities arrested Dr. Jean
Alix Charles on Jul. 6. He stands accused of willfully killing on
the operating table last summer Jean Wilner Lalanne, who was
suspected of being the intermediary between the triggermen and
the authors of the crime. Charles vehemently protests his
innocence, saying that Lalanne died of a pulmonary embolism
during the operation after languishing for almost two weeks in
the General Hospital with three bullets in his buttocks. (On Jul.
10, Charles was “provisionally released” from jail; the
influential Association of Haitian Doctors (AMH) had strongly
protested his arrest.)
Last week, Lissade declared that his devotion to the
investigation was “total,” but human rights groups continue to
question the minister’s commitment. They have repeatedly met with
him to demand that he show greater support for Gassant’s
investigation. After one meeting last week, the groups were
surprised by a Justice Ministry communiqué saying that “the
organizations... declared that they were not especially attached
to examining magistrate Claudy Gassant,” Lespérance explained.
“But we never said that... At no time was the question raised as
to whether we were attached to somebody. That was not the subject
of our discussions.”
The human rights groups question why Lissade initially supported
Ambroise’s illegal prison interviews and why he dragged his feet
on disciplining the judge. This contrasts sharply with Lissade’s
swift, unusual, and possibly illegal firing of Judge Jean Sénat
Fleury, Gassant’s predecessor on the Dominique/Louissaint case
who withdrew due to death threats.
Lissade dismissed Fleury and assistant public prosecutor Elco
Saint-Armand on Jun. 25 for supposedly making an illegal search
on Jun. 1 for suspected drugs at a luxury home in the fancy
Belvil neighborhood, threatening the home’s occupants, demanding
a bribe of $1.5 million to release the suspects, and stealing
valuables from the house. Fleury strongly denies the charge,
saying that the firings just reveal Lissade’s blatant protection
of rich drug traffickers. Judges from the Central Plateau
expressed their solidarity with Fleury, while the House of
Deputies’ Justice Commission has summoned Lissade to appear
before it next week to question him about the firing, which some
deputies deem “illegal” and the province of the court system, not
the executive branch.
Many human rights activists are not surprised by Lissade’s lack
of support for Gassant. He was, after all, a low-level “Jean
Claudiste” activist during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude “Baby
Doc” Duvalier and provided legal advice to the leaders of the
1991-1994 coup d’état. Like the selection of other former
Duvalierists to the latest Lavalas cabinet, Lissade’s appointment
to the crucial post of Justice Minister shocked and alienated
many of the Lavalas Family’s allies and members.
But the biggest surprise and concern of human rights groups is
not Lissade’s behavior but that of President Jean Bertrand
Aristide. Why hasn’t he marshalled support for Gassant’s
investigation, they ask, or cracked the whip on Lissade?
“The hope we had on Feb. 7 [Aristide’s inauguration] was
reinforced by the public declaration President Aristide made on
Radio Haiti’s own airwaves on Mar. 3 where he said no matter what
Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint will find justice,”
said the EVJD’s Elie in a Jun. 28 joint press conference of human
rights groups. “Our hopes were again reinforced when Justice
Minister Gary Lissade, who is directly involved in providing the
examining magistrate with means, declared that there would be no
more impunity in Haiti. But it is not hope which makes us speak
out today but distress, which is growing in us as we watch what
is happening. After all these beautiful speeches which gave us
hope, what we see on the ground makes us very uneasy.” Elie
denounced the “threats of violence to decree who is guilty and
who is not guilty before the investigation is even over,” a
reference to the fierce protests by street demonstrators saying
that “they will not allow” Toussaint to be indicted.
“What troubles us most is the apparent indifference of the
Executive with respect to the case,” Elie said.
The NCHR’s Espérance summed it up: “You feel that there is no
real will on the part of the Lavalas government to complete the
Some popular organizations have been less diplomatic. “Why hasn’t
President Aristide straightened out the justice minister to
furnish Judge Gassant with all the material and security he
deserves?” asked the Peasant Union of Gros Morne (IPGM) in a
communiqué. They asked if Aristide’s visit to Radio Haïti Inter
“was just powder blown in the eyes of national and international
opinion” and why Toussaint “became so alarmed to denounce people
left and right when the investigation seemed to be culminating.”
Meanwhile, the International Alliance for Justice for Jean
Dominique, an assortment of over two hundred international
actors, artists, professionals, and intellectuals organized by
director Jonathon Demme, sent an open letter to Aristide on Jul.
3 calling on him to “publicly confirm his commitment” to the
murder investigation. On Jul. 5, Aristide answered from the
CARICOM Summit in Freeport, Bahamas saying “I will read that
letter carefully so that I formulate a response as usual for
them; it is the same commitment I always take so that we can
advance on the road to justice with respect for the independence
of each branch of government and not bow or kneel to impunity.”
Such declarations ring hollow when, for example, Aristide’s
Commerce Minister Stanley Théard has an outstanding 1986
indictment pending against him for embezzling $4.5 million from
the Haitian treasury and Planning Minister Marc Bazin acted as an
ornamental Prime Minister for the military dictatorship during
the coup d’état.
But most mysterious of all is Aristide’s silence in the face of
Toussaint’s growing arrogance toward and meddling in the
investigation and the senator’s bitter attacks against former
president René Préval. Is Aristide afraid of Toussaint? Is he
hostage? Is he beholden or compromised in some other way?
These are the questions on the minds of many as Gassant’s
investigation resumes. The answers are sure to generate both
light and heat.
“Justice for Jean Dominique is the beginning of justice for
everybody killed by the criminals’ bullets and the first step in
fighting impunity and permissiveness,” said the IPGM. “No matter
what, justice must be found for Jean Dominique’s murder.”
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