What do the UN
Commission on Human Rights, Irish members of Parliament, and
International Human Rights Lawyers in Bulgaria have in common? They have
all recently called for the immediate release of political prisoners in
Haiti, specifically for the release of Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste and Yvon
Louis Joinet, the Haiti
expert for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, investigated
the human rights situation in Haiti over the past two weeks. Joinet
condemned the jailing of Pere Gerard Jean-Juste and Yvon Neptune, former
Prime Minister of Haiti.
Fr. Jean-Juste, often called the Martin Luther King of Haiti, was beaten
by a mob in church and arrested by the police while participating in a
funeral on July 21, 2005. He was immediately
declared a Prisoner of
by Amnesty International and has been held in jail without formal
charges ever since. Yvon Neptune, who was Prime Minister of Haiti, has
been in jail since May 2004, also without trial. No trials are planned
for either prisoner, or any of the other hundreds of political prisoners
jailed in Haiti.
Joinet told the Associated Press the charges against Jean-Juste "seem
quite weak" and questioned the motives for detaining the priest, who had
been seen by some as a potential presidential contender in upcoming
elections. "When a prisoner remains in jail longer than what the law
allows, he becomes a political prisoner. This seems to be the case for
Jean-Juste," said Joinet. "If the Haitian judiciary does not have the
means to try the people it detains, it should be compelled to release
them," he concluded.
The UN call for the release of Haiti’s political prisoners follows two
other international demands for their freedom.
The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), meeting in
Bulgaria recently in early November, called for freedom for all
political prisoners in Haiti and singled out the case of Fr. Gerard
Jean-Juste for special mention.
Later in November, members of the Irish Parliament called for the
release of Fr. Jean-Juste, Yvon Neptune and all political prisoners.
Parliamentarians of Sinn Fein, the Green Party, and Independents also
called for full and free elections in Haiti.
The unelected powers of Haiti have labeled Fr. Jean-Juste “the most
dangerous man in Haiti” for his unrelenting calls for freedom for
prisoners, his feeding of the poor, and his insistence on the
restoration of democracy.
Meanwhile, elections in Haiti have been postponed yet again as
criticisms of the fairness of the electoral process mount.
Supporters of real democratic elections criticize an election process
which refuses to free hundreds of supporters of President Jean Bertrand
Aristide, like Pere Jean-Juste and Yvon Neptune, who are jailed without
charges or prospects of trial.
Supporters of real democratic elections note that even those who are
willing to vote face real problems. Unelected Haitian authorities have
reduced the number of polling places from over 4000 to only few hundred,
with fewest in the poorer neighborhoods. Compare Los Angeles, a city
with slightly larger population condensed in smaller geography, which
has over 4400 polling places. How would the people of Los Angeles vote
if their polling places were reduced by 90% and mostly located in
Lethal mass violence by police and paramilitary groups continue to
plague the poor neighborhoods of Port au Prince. UN troops have been
accused of shielding police from accountability and even
participating directly in violence in poor neighborhoods.
The people of Haiti deserve democracy as much as anyone else. Elections
in this atmosphere will likely be viewed more as selections than
elections. As Fr. Jean-Juste said frequently before he was jailed: “Free
political prisoners, stop human rights abuses, and restore democracy.”
Irish leaders said in their statement all political prisoners must be
released and all political exiles must be allowed to return in order to
participate in Haitian elections. Everyone, not just the rich, must be
given an equal opportunity to vote and have their vote counted in a fair
and transparent manner. Most of all, the violent repression directed at
the poor must stop. Elections should not be held unless and until these
conditions are met.
Free political prisoners. Stop human rights abuses against the
poor. Restore democracy. It is difficult to imagine legitimate free
democratic elections otherwise.
Bill Quigley, Loyola University New
Orleans School of Law, is a volunteer lawyer for Pere Jean-Juste with
the Institute for Justice and Democracy (www.ijdh.org)
assisting Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Advocats Internationaux. He can
be reached at