Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A further note on the killings at La Scierie

A fellow I hadn't heard of before recently wrote to me in the wake of my highlighting some of the problems with the reportage of Wadner Pierre and Jeb Sprague for the Inter Press Service on the Ronald Dauphin case in Haiti, given the former's link with paid advocates of Haiti's former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the latter's rather loopy public declarations on subjects Haitian in the past. This commentary in turn had spurred a reply from the ever-opportunistic Kim Ives, late of the Brooklyn-based publication Haiti Progrès, currently of Haiti Liberté. A fellow describing himself as a "friend" of Ives then emailed me (in a thoroughly respectful manner, unlike the apparently unstable Sprague) to ask me a few questions, which I will re-rephrase slightly here, while preserving the correspondent's anonymity.

1) Whether Ronald Dauphin is guilty or not, is it not a violation of human rights to keep someone in prison indefinitely without being charged or put on trial?

2) The Bush Administration circumvented this issue by changing the description of suspected terrorists to detainees in order to rationalize indefinite imprisonment. The overwhelming, humane response has been to set them free or put them on trial. In Haiti, prisoners are simply left to rot. Do you - Michael Deibert - you support this?

3) Are you concerned that if set free until trial, Ronald Dauphin will disappear or commit more crimes? Do you think he is a danger to Haitian society?

My response, which may be of interest to readers as it addresses some important issues, ran as follows:

Hello, and thank you for your email. It addresses an important question, one which goes to the heart of what is happening in Haiti right now.

When I interviewed him in June regarding St. Marc case, Pierre Espérance, the director of the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), made a very perceptive statement to the effect that, in Haiti’s broken justice system, the criminal becomes a victim because the system doesn't work.

This, in my view as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in St. Marc, is what is happening in the case of Ronald Dauphin. I really defy anyone to spend a morning or afternoon talking with the many families associated with the Association des Victimes du Génocide de la Scierie (AVIGES), listen to their stories and not come away with the impression that the combined forces of the Police Nationale de Haiti, the Unité de Sécurité de la Garde du Palais National and especially Bale Wouze subjected them to something truly horrible during February 2004. Yet, strangely enough (to me at least), in the international Haiti solidarity network, nary a voice is raised to offer these people comfort, solace or support. I think this is something of which all us, as foreigners who claim to care for Haiti, should be ashamed.

According to my own interviews in St. Marc and the interviews of others, Ronald Dauphin, along with former Fanmi Lavalas Deputy Amanus Mayette (freed from prison in April 2007) and the deceased Bale Wouze leader Somoza were three of the most visible architects of the slaughter that took place in St. Marc that month, and the offenses such as the gang rape of women that took place then and afterwards.

Do I think that Ronald Dauphin is a danger to his fellow Haitians? Yes, but that is no excuse for holding him in jail indefinitely without trial. If I, as a journalist, can travel to St. Marc and find people virtually lining up around the block willing to share quite lucid and disturbing tales of the state-sponsored violence that they have been subjected to, then it seems not only possible or desirable but essential that the Haitian state find a way to address their demands for justice.

However grave his crimes, as a citizen Ronald Dauphin has his rights, as well. But what disturbs me most, perhaps, is the incredible arsenal of money and personnel arrayed to not only assure Mr. Dauphin of his rights but to discredit the victims of political violence in Haiti and to deny them their day in court. I thought that it was a national scandal, for example, when those convicted of participation in the April 1994 massacre of Aristide supporters in Gonaives had their sentences overturned by Haiti's supreme court in 2005, but at least the people of Gonaives got their day in court, however sullied it later became. What about the people of St. Marc?

The same actors who prosecuted the Gonaives case during the Préval government’s first mandate - the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and (now) the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) - now work on behalf of the victimizers in the St. Marc case. It is a seriously complicated question, but I don’t think that the cause of justice in Haiti is served by having one standard of advocacy for former officials and partisans of the Fanmi Lavalas party and another for everyone else in Haiti.

If these groups are genuinely advocating for an equal measure of justice to be applied to all in Haiti, why were none of their voices raised during the 2001-2004 government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, when the prisons were equally swollen with (mostly unknown) defendants who had never seen a judge? Why were no voices raised against the corruption of the judicial process against former dictator Prosper Avril, no matter how distasteful he may be, or against the nakedly political detention of Coordination Nationale des Societaires Victimes spokesmen Rosemond Jean, or against the two-year detention-without-trial of Winston Jean-Bart, aka the famous Tupac of Cité Soleil? Where was their compassion following the horrific slaying of Haitian journalist and poet Jacques Roche? In my view, they were silent then as they are silent now because they see human rights only as an issue to be bandied about when it is politically expedient to do so for the political current they serve, not as a long-term commitment to build a better Haiti.

It is a very thorny problem: How does one give justice to victims while still insuring the rights of the accused? As you correctly point out, it is a debate that still goes on in the United States and in other countries with supposedly functioning judicial systems to this day.

The old adage of following the money is accurate up to a point. Some have pointed out RNDDH’s 2004 award of C$100,000 (US$85,382) from the Canadian International Development Agency, even though, as far as I can discern, most of the group’s funding comes from organizations such as Christian Aid, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Lutheran World Federation. Nevertheless, since that grant,RNDDH has consistently advocated for justice on behalf of a number of Fanmi Lavalas members, including Jean Maxon Guerrier, Yvon Feuille, Gerald Gilles, and Rudy Hériveaux. RNDDH, for me, has shown a commitment to a non-political defense of human rights that BAI/IJDH, linked monetarily and otherwise with Mr. Aristide’s attorney, have never shown.

Perhaps the best we can do as foreigners is to encourage a genuinely non-partisan, non-political development and reinforcement of the Haitian judicial system through institutions such as the newly re-opened magistrate’s school, so that justice can be given to the victims of the human rights abuses and the human rights of perpetrators, accused and otherwise, can also be safeguarded. Perhaps boring and not very sexy, but as a man once told me, the most revolutionary thing you can do in Haiti is to strengthen an institution. I still believe that is true.

I hope this has helped to answer your questions.

Best regards,


No comments: