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8922: U.S. celebrities seek justice in Haiti (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Tuesday, August 21, 2001

U.S. celebrities seek justice in Haiti
Entertainers sign letter asking to resolve murder of journalist

WASHINGTON -- Hollywood luminaries such as Woody Allen, Julia Roberts and 
Robert Redford and renowned writers including Toni Morrison and Stephen King 
have lent their names to the cause of a slain Haitian journalist.

A long list of celebrities signed a letter last week calling on Haiti's 
Senate to take action to clear up the April 3, 2000, slaying of Haiti's most 
prominent radio journalist, Jean Dominique.

The catalyst for the letter was Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme, who 
directed Philadelphia and Silence of the Lambs. In a telephone interview 
from Maine, Demme said he was a friend of Dominique and wants colleagues 
from Hollywood and around the world to ensure that the murder is resolved.

``Jean was a great world citizen, and an incredible human rights activist,'' 
Demme said. ``I'm interested in seeing justice done. I don't care who did 

Demme gathered signatures from more than 100 prominent actors, directors, 
writers, public intellectuals, musicians and playwrights for a letter dated 
Aug. 14 to Haiti's Senate.

The letter calls on the Senate to support the request of a judge to lift the 
parliamentary immunity of Sen. Dany Toussaint, a powerful member of 
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ruling Lavalas Family party who has been 
linked to Dominique's murder.

``It is only by lifting Sen. Toussaint's immunity that he will be able to 
prove the innocence that he claims and that credibility will be delivered to 
the Senate itself as an institution, and supporters of justice and the rule 
of law,'' the letter says in part.

Demme said he befriended Dominique in the mid-1980s when he filmed a 
documentary in Haiti after the overthrow of dictator Jean-Claude ``Baby 
Doc'' Duvalier. Demme said he visited Radio Haiti Inter, the station that 
Dominique turned into a source of some of the most provocative investigative 
journalism in the nation.

The two got to know each other better in 1991, when a military coup toppled 
Aristide after his first election. Aristide and Dominique ended up in exile 
in the United States.

When Dominique was killed by seven bullets 16 months ago, Demme said he 
began calling friends in Hollywood.

``I was talking to some people, like Danny Glover, who have an abiding 
interest in Haiti,'' Demme said, adding that they formed the Alliance for 
Justice for Jean Dominique. ``It's very ad hoc. It doesn't have an office.''

Among the prominent filmmakers signing the recent letter are Robert Altman, 
Luc Besson, brothers Ethan and Joel Coen, John Boorman, Spike Lee and Martin 
Scorsese. Actors include Denzel Washington, Robert Downey Jr., John Cusack, 
Lauren Bacall, Richard Gere, Amy Irving, Sydney Poitier, Robin Williams, 
Paul Newman, Robert De Niro and Susan Sarandon.

Demme also obtained the signatures of Morrison, a Nobel laureate, and fellow 
writers William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, Arundhati Roy, Norman Mailer, Harold 
Pinter and Taylor Branch.

Dominique, 69, was easily the most recognizable journalist in a nation where 
radio is the preferred medium. While supportive of Aristide, who returned to 
power in 1994, Dominique's radio editorials needled some of those in the 
ruling party.

``Jean Dominique was sort of like Walter Cronkite, and to have someone 
assassinate him was no minor thing,'' said Ira Kurzban, the Miami-based 
counsel for the Aristide government.

Efforts to clear up the murder have been stymied by threats against 
investigating judges, two of whom quit the case early on. The current judge, 
Claudy Gassant, may be the target of a new assassination plot, the French 
advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said in an Aug. 16 letter to 
Justice Minister Gary Lissade. Gassant has shown valor in staying with the 
inquiry, other observers say.

``The guy has every right to fear for his life. Listen, the key witness in 
the case was shot in his hospital bed after undergoing surgery. [The case] 
is touching powerful people,'' said Rachel Neild, public security reform 
director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a rights group.

Toussaint, a former army officer, is both popular and feared. Protected by 
the cloak of parliamentary immunity, he has answered only one of three 
subpoenas, according to a report this year by the Inter American Press 

Toussaint's relations with Aristide are reportedly strained, although both 
are from the same political party. Demme called Aristide ``a wonderful man'' 
and said he is convinced that the Haitian leader wants justice to be done.

But Demme said Haiti's fragile democracy must survive rigorous tests to grow 
stronger. ``There's a tremendous need that this case not go unsolved,'' he 
said, adding that if and when the judge issues indictments in the killing, 
``it'll be a bombshell down there.''

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