Open letter to Gustavo Gallón, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti

Open Letter
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Dear Mr. Gallón,

FIDH carried out a mission in Haiti between 23 and 30 January 2016 alongside its member organisations, the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) and the Ecumenical Centre for Human Rights (CEDH). This mission met the dual objective of monitoring the current political developments in order to formulate recommendations for finding a way out of the crisis, and implementing a programme of activities to support the Haitian community in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes, as well as the duty of remembrance.

Considering your visit to Haiti between 21 February and 1 March 2016, and in view of your report to the Human Rights Council which will be presented at its 31st session (in March 2016), FIDH and its member organisations wish to share with you our concerns and recommendations on the situation of human rights in Haiti.

On the political crisis

Haiti plunged into a worrying political crisis after the fraud detected at the presidential and legislative polls on 9 August and 25 October 2015. This led to the results being challenged by the opposition party, as well as to violent protests and a second deferment of the second round of presidential elections and parliamentary by-elections.

Although the conditions for a free and credible electoral process were not met, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP)(whose composition has been fiercely contested by independent observers) approved the results of the first round of the presidential elections which showed that the candidate from the ruling party, Jovenel Moise, leading opposition candidate Jude Celestin.

The electoral observation carried out by a Coalition of Haitian NGOs, including the RNDDH, concluded that massive fraud had taken place, which flaunted the civil and political rights of the Haitian people, particularly their right to freely elect their leaders in a democratic regime.

Despite this, the ruling party and the international community, via the "Core Group", called for the second round of the presidential elections and parliamentary bi-elections to take place on 27 December 2015, which was then postponed. However, the CEP, the Haitian executive, and the Core Group gave a deadline of 24 January 2016, without taking into account the causes for the postponement.

The political crisis deepened with the CEP’s announcement that they would uphold this date. In early January, an independent electoral verification commission confirmed that serious irregularities had been committed during the first round and believed that conditions were not yet suitable for organising the second round. The opposition candidate announced his intention to boycott the elections, calling it an "electoral coup d’état"
With political tensions at a peak, in the days leading up to the second round, violent clashes broke out between opposition protesters and law enforcement in Port-au-Prince. One person was wounded by gunshot, and there was a great deal of destruction. Due to the fear of an explosion in the violence, on 22 January the CEP decided to postpone the second round of presidential elections indefinitely.

The current situation raises the fear of a prolonged political crisis, which may lead to an institutional vacuum. Haiti needs democratic and solid institutions that its citizens can trust to deal with the significant economic, social, humanitarian and human rights-related challenges that still exist six years after the earthquake that devastated the country and claimed 300,000 lives.

Faced with the current political crisis and the risk of paralysis in institutions that could lead the country into a cycle of violence, our organisations call for:

-  restraint by political parties by avoiding any inflammatory discourse, and asking their sympathisers to ensure that all protests that take place are peaceful;

-  political parties to work towards a way out of the crisis in order to avoid an institutional vacuum. This could happen through the establishment of a consensual and provisional transitional regime tasked with organising the second round of the presidential elections as soon as possible and under peaceful, free, and credible conditions. To legitimise this process, our organisations recommend the reconstitution of the CEP, the application of the recommendations of the independent electoral verification commission, and the verification of votes from the first round of elections by an independent body;

-  the international community, and especially the Core Group, to support the organisation of credible and pluralistic elections that respect the choice of the Haitian electorate, bearing in mind that the country’s need for stability cannot be fulfilled without an electoral process that is satisfactory for the entire Haitian population; and,

-  reform of the electoral law and the establishment of a permanent electoral commission once the presidential elections have taken place.

On the fight against impunity and the duty of remembrance

FIDH has found that, in the view of the Haitian community, the diplomatic community, and the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) alike, impunity is a widespread affliction in Haiti. The relationship of trust between Haitian citizens and justice is almost nonexistent. There are many programmes, supported by the United Nations and international cooperation, whose objective is to reform the legal system to give it structure, strengthen its ability to function, strengthen its independence, and combat corruption.

This impunity is a legacy of Haitian history. The victims of the most serious crimes from the 30-year dictatorships of Duvalier senior and junior, military regimes, and the Aristide presidencies have never had the right to truth, justice and reparation. Hundreds of judicial executions, forced disappearances, arrests, arbitrary detentions, and acts of torture - some of which can be classed as international crimes - remain unpunished. Many of those involved still hold important political or economic posts without interference from justice.
Haitian community organisations have battled to shatter this wall of impunity, and contribute to the duty of remembrance.

After more than twenty years of exile in France, Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti on 16 January 2011. The very next day he was indicted by an investigating judge for corruption, misappropriation of funds, and criminal conspiracy. On 19 January 2011, the first of 22 criminal complaints was lodged against him for crimes against humanity. The complaints were filed by victims brought together by the Collectif Contre l’Impunité (Collective Against Impunity), which is mainly composed of the RNDDH and whose focal point is the CEDH.

Mr. Duvalier’s lawyers contested the charges of crimes against humanity, claiming that the crimes that may have been committed by Duvalier during his years in power were legally justified. This argument was reiterated on 27 January 2012 by the investigating judge in charge of proceedings, who chose to charge Duvalier with only corruption and misappropriation of funds.

Following the filing of an appeal of the January 2012 ruling by the plaintiffs, accompanied by the Collectif Contre l’Impunité, the Port-au-Prince Court of Appeal held several weeks of public hearings during which the plaintiffs detailed the acts to which they fell victim. In February 2013, Duvalier was forced to appear before the Court of Appeal in order to explain the acts of which he was accused. On 20 February 2014, in a historic decision, the Court of Appeal reinstated the accusations of crimes against humanity against Duvalier, ordering additional information on these crimes and tasking this to one of the judges who had presided at the Court of Appeal.

The death of Jean-Claude Duvalier on 4 October 2014 ended proceedings against him. However, as the complaints filed in 2011, and the February 2014 Court of Appeal ruling pertained to both Duvalier and his accomplices, legal proceedings continue.

Since 20 February 2014, the trial has continued to move forward. The investigating judge has interviewed victims and witnesses, and several summons and warrants have been issued. However, the investigation has been slowed by the lack of resources to carry out the enquiry, and the absence of support.

In addition to this legal battle, a great number of Haitian organisations such as the Fondation Devoir de Mémoire (Duty of Remembrance Foundation) and the CEDH – who caused it to be initiated in the first place – supported in particular by the Fondation Fokal, have created and implemented an awareness campaign (through commemorations, documentary films, publications, radio messages, in newspapers and with school pupils and students) to make people aware of past crimes.

Considering the need to respond to the rights that the victims of the most serious crimes have to truth, justice and reparation, as well as the importance of fighting impunity in the consolidation of the constitutional State and the strengthening of the relationship of trust between citizens and justice, our organisations recommend that the authorities in question:

-  Support the investigating judge in the Duvalier and company case by provisionally relieving him of, or providing assistance with, his other functions at the Court of Appeal, strengthening his resources, and maintaining his support in terms of security;

-  Open judicial enquiries and initiate prosecutions of anyone suspected of being responsible for international crimes during the Duvalier, military, and Aristide regimes, in particular by providing a favourable outcome for complaints filed by the victims;

-  Include in any reforms of the penal code and penal procedure the criminalisation of international crimes (crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Court of Justice), torture (as defined by the United Nations Convention of 1984), and forced disappearances. Additionally, allow tribunals the right to have universal jurisdiction for the most serious crimes, in accordance with those international instruments for the protection of human rights that have been ratified by Haiti;

-  Ratify the Statute of the International Court of Justice, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;

-  Support the actions of community organisations that are petitioning for the duty of remembrance; and

-  Commit to the political, diplomatic, and financial actions needed to implement - in conjunction with the community - a Truth and Reconciliation Commission tasked with bringing the most serious crimes committed to light, as well as to establish responsibilities and organise means of reparation for victims.

On the support and protection of civil society

The political crisis and the climate of impunity in Haiti create a difficult working environment for human rights activists and journalists.

Community organisations, activists, and journalists who have analysed the current political situation and denounced the fraud and electoral irregularities, as well as the violations of human rights committed during the protests against political parties, are subjected to vehement criticism, pressure, and threats due to their work.
The journalists Liliane Pierre Paul, director of programming at Radio Kiskeya, and Jean Monard Métellus, presenter of the programme "Ranmase" on Radio Caraïbes, suffered threats and smear campaigns by the highest State authorities for their coverage of the crisis. In particular, both were subjected to a barely-veiled attack contained in the words of a song by the President Michel Joseph Martelly, which has been broadcast on the air since early February.

This unique environment is especially worrying given that the situation of activists in Haiti has always been difficult. It should be remembered that Daniel Dorsinvil, the founding member of the Groupe Alternatif de Justice (GAJ) and General Coordinator of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organisations (POHDH), and his wife Girldy Larèche were shot dead on the afternoon of Saturday, 8 February 2014, in a residential district of Port-au-Prince. The circumstances and those responsible for this double assassination have never been identified. In addition, on 2 April 2014, Mr. Pierre Espérance, Executive Director of the RNDDH and Secretary General of FIDH, received a threatening letter with a bullet. In this letter, the authors accused Mr. Espérance of writing false reports with the aim of destabilising the government and violating the honour of citizens. These serious threats followed numerous publications by the RNDDH which denounced the downward spiral and regression of Haiti in the fight against impunity and corruption, and called for the establishment of a constitutional State.

Therefore, our organisations call upon the national authorities to:

-  Guarantee, under all circumstances, the physical and psychological safety of human rights activists and journalists;

-  End all forms of harassment of human rights activists and journalists in Haiti so that they can carry out their work freely and without constraint; and

-  Comply with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1998.

More specifically, our organisations call upon the international community to support human rights activists and journalists through national authorities and programmes of cooperation.

FIDH and its member organisations hope to be able to discuss these points and other subjects relating to human rights during a working session with the community during your next visit to Haiti. Furthermore, our organisations sincerely hope that you will raise the concerns and recommendations listed in this letter with your contacts and in your next report at the Human Rights Council.

Yours respectfully,

Sylvie Bajeux, Director of the CEDH

Pierre Espérance, Director of the RNNDH

Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH

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