[Documents menu] Documents menu

Justice and impunity

From Haiti Info,
Vol. 3, no. 18, 17 June 1995

This month, decreed Month of Justice for All, the Commission of Truth and Justice finally announced that in July it will begin investigations of human rights violations of the coup d'etat.

Simultaneously however, in interviews, at meetings and in documents, a number of individuals and organizations from the democratic and popular movement have broken their silence to denounce not only aspects of the commission, but also and more importantly the context in which it is working: the continued and complete reign of impunity and lack of justice.

Justice: Nothing Moving

Nine months after the U.S. invasion and eight after the restoration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, there still have been no trial dates announced for any of the criminals of the past three years' terror. Worse, the few investigations timidly announced by the government a few months ago, if they ever began, appear to have stalled.

A judge in Les Cayes scheduled to hear testimony on the case of Jean-Claude Museau, brutally beaten to death after the coup, is issuing warrants and summons at a snail's pace, despite the clear implication of several individuals. In the capital, at least one of the two men picked up in connection with the September, 1993, murder of Antoine Izmery recently appealed to the O.A.S./U.N. International Civilian Mission and complained his rights were violated. He was released provisionally, although today there are reportedly others in custody.

None of those stories were publicized, nor is the government's overall dodging of the justice issue covered by the press or discussed by the politicians occupying the airwaves as elections near. Now, many fear the fanfare over the commission's promises of truth will only draw away the public's attention even more from the government's failure to fulfill its responsibility and bring to justice the many known criminals who confidently walk and drive the streets of Haiti.

What the Commission Is. . . and Is Not

The Commission of Truth and Justice was proposed to the Haitian government during Aristide's exile by Canadian International Centre for Human Rights and Development (ICHRDD), headed Edward Broadbent, after Aristide visited Canada and encouraged it. The center proposed the commission hear testimony on serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity such as murder, torture and rape. It will be able to name those responsible for the violations... The commission will cover the period from the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, February 7, 1986, to the date of President Aristide's return, October 15, 1994. It said the inquiries should be credible, rapid and public. The ICHRDD also noted in the same report, however, that not only the truth but justice is crucial to Haiti's future and that impunity cannot be tolerated nor can people be told to forget... to let bygones be bygones. [Libertas, vol. 4, no. 4]

The commission has barely moved beyond those broad outlines, and contrary to the proposition, Aristide's decree launching the commission on Dec. 17, 1994, said it would only cover crimes during the three-year coup period. Since then, very little information about the commission was made public except that Francoise Boucard, a sociologist, had been appointed president.

On March 28, 1995, another presidential decree annulled the Dec. 17 decree after only three months, and redefined the work of the commission and its members:

The commission, which recently announced its members (including Freud Jean, Executive Secretary of Programme pour une Alternative Justice (PAJ), and also Coordinator of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organization, and Patrick Robinson, former head of several missions of the O.A.S. Inter-American Commission of Human Rights), has a US$2.5 million budget for a central staff, 30 mostly foreign investigators and an equal number of local assistants, although for the past month, Boucard has repeatedly said she does not have the necessary money.

Investigators began arriving last weekend. According to one, a number have no experience in human rights violations or investigations of rights abuses.

Truth But Not Justice

An important distinction made up front by both supporters and critics is that, as the decree states, the commission is not of a legal nature or a jurisdictional nature.

The commission will expose crimes and make recommendations, Boucard said on a radio show, but truth never replaces justice... [With only] truth, truth, truth you won't ever get where you have to get: a justice system with police to carry out inquiries, prosecute and sentence.

However, given the current context of complete impunity, obvious lack of will on from the government at virtually every level and a justice reform being organized, paid for and carried out not by elected Haitian officials but by U.S. officials who just signed another contract - this one for five years and US$18 million - with the Ministry of Justice, the prospects of a justice system which will answer the people's demands are grim.

Ironically, on a radio show on June 9, Boucard and Jean stressed that although the commission is not a substitute for justice, they believe the it will be pressure for the reform of the justice system.

It can be a booster, Jean said.

But Jean also noted that the current reform is merely a professionalization of the existing structure which Boucard called a restavek (child slave) of the army.

The people are not satisfied, Jean admitted. What's happening, if it is the first step to begin a profound reform, okay, but if it stays there, it will not give many results, and people will become more distrustful.

At the show's end however, Boucard dodged the question, saying, The justice system has a job to do, we have another job to do... [we] will prepare the road for justice.

Context: Occupation and Reforms

Yet the kind of justice and reform rights groups would like to see and which Jean and Boucard imagine or pretend to imagine will be possible are almost virtually guaranteed not to happen in the current context of an occupation and a tutelage of the U.S. government and the multilateral institutions.

In its March issue, Pou Yon Lt Kalite JISTIS, (For Another Kind of Justice), a human rights bulletin, wrote:

We don't have any problem with the principle of the creation of a truth and justice commission... However, we are not going to tell ourselves any lies about the results of the work of the commission, when we consider that today the country is under an occupation by the same people who maneuvered the criminal coup d'etat of Sept. 30, 1991. As a consequence, they will always do everything they can to undermine inquiries that would reveal their participation in certain acts. Also, we cannot accept that the government uses the commission to play 'hide-and-seek,' to refuse to take its responsibility concerning justice that remains one of the biggest demands of the people. For us, what is important and urgent is public action from the government to go after all the criminals of the past three years of the coup d'etat who are until today happily going about their business in a rotted society where they are benefiting from a complete impunity.

Another harsh critical voice emerged last week. On June 10, Jean- Claude Jean, a former member of the working group of the commission who recently resigned, went public with Quelques Reflexions sur la Commission de la Verite et la Reforme de la Justice en Haiti, an 18-page attack on the commission and the Haitian and U.S. governments. Jean, director of the Institut Culturel Karl Levque (ICKL), a member of the human rights platform, said the report was prepared after consultations with about two dozen popular organizations, human rights and other non- governmental groups, politicians and members of the international community. [See also page 1.]

Jean attacked the sham reform of the judicial system, and denounced the government for leaving the question in U.S. government hands. Despite the obvious need for a profound restructuring from the bottom-up, with the population's participation, a Justice Ministry document Jean's team found lists such reform measures as fax machines for rural offices and higher salaries for the same corrupt judges who have worked with numerous corrupt regimes.

When you see their document, Jean said, then you understand that there is a perfect articulation between the government's demands and the propositions formulated by the Americans, at the level of U.S. AID, at the level of the U.S. embassy.

The ICKL paper said the U.S. reforms, complete with lucrative contracts for U.S. law firms (despite the fact that U.S. and Haitian law are based on different law systems), not only come from the grand centers of power, precisely where power and the law of money and status are accumulated, but also are mostly to edify the high courts, that is to say the apparatus necessary to regulate the high financial, commercial and personal interests of the dominant class.

The U.S. focus on the justice system, the document said, is part of the laying down of the new world order structure - a neoliberal economy, privatization, the eradication of the state and a formal democracy.

Report Also Attacks Commission

The ICKL report also denounced many aspects of the truth commission, and noted that the lack of funding, for which it is partly responsible since it did not write proposals until May, is being used as an excuse.

One asks oneself about the desire of President Aristide and also elements of the government not only regarding the existence of the commission, but also the existence of a true concrete political will, the paper said.

Jean said organizations in the democratic movement are interested in the commission's potential, but that they have been neither consulted nor informed, even though their participation is absolutely necessary to give it credibility. Only through their participation will the conclusions and recommendations of the commission... be carried out and might subsequently go into effect.

Finally, the six-month period for investigation is the bare minimum for such a crucial and complex investigation.

The difference between a truth commission report and a report of a human rights organization... is the level of the inquiry, Jean explained at the presentation, and referred directly the U.S. government's implication in the repression. In a human rights report, you are dealing at an individual level, but in a truth commission... what is more important is to trace the network... it's not the quantity of investigators that will permit you to do that. It's time. e

The paper ended: Will the commission be the beginning of an answer to the demands for justice or a substitute for justice?

Conclusion: No Substitute for Justice

The criticisms of the commission are obviously justified, despite Boucard's claim Jean-Claude Jean deals with minor rather than big issues. But it is regrettable that only today Jean reached this understanding, after working with the commission for nearly four months. Since before December it has been clear that the emphasis should be on pushing the government to investigate and prosecute criminals of the coup. Instead, there has been total silence. Many have been able to flee, have benefited from aid programs, and powerful families and concerns have been rewarded with lucrative business contracts.

Also, an obvious criticism overlooked by Jean last fall and in his report this spring is what will happen to the results of such an inquiry, if accomplished. In El Salvador and a myriad of other countries, truth commission reports were published, sometimes wholly or sometimes after editing, and the recommendations promptly ignored. In El Salvador, most of the same generals or judges remain in place. The new National Police (trained by the same U.S. team training the Haitian police) has known rights abusers. The paramilitaries are still armed. And the politicians and political parties who run the country have strong ties to the U.S. government funding and the death squads.

It is necessary that the authors and the persons responsible for the thousands of crimes and human rights violations here, the ones who have been for so many years the executors and torturers of the Haitian people, be put on trial and condemned and punished for their crimes as the massive majority of the Haitian people have requested. But this will not ever happen in the actual conditions of a military occupation by the very forces which were behind the coup, which were organizing the systematic repression against the masses and which were ordering FRAPH (Front pour l'Avancement et le Progres Haitien) actions, and with a president, Aristide, and a government totally won over to the U.S. causes. Justice, there is no doubt about it, will be the result of a new relation of forces that the Haitian people have to build and to fight for.