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8922: U.S. celebrities seek justice in Haiti (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published Tuesday, August 21, 2001
U.S. celebrities seek justice in Haiti
Entertainers sign letter asking to resolve murder of journalist
BY TIM JOHNSON
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
``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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