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26097: Arthur (news) Release of Former Haitian Paramilitary Leader Draws Condemnation (fwd)
Release of Former Haitian Paramilitary Leader Draws Condemnation
By Amy Bracken
26 August 2005 - Voice of America
In Haiti, the recent release of an imprisoned former paramilitary leader has
drawn condemnation from diplomats and human rights activists. Many Haitians
are expressing cynicism, saying their country, with its history of violence and
extreme poverty, has never had justice. Some are skeptical that November
elections will bring significant change.
Louis Jodel Chamblain was a co-leader of the Front for the Advancement and
Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH, a paramilitary group blamed for thousands of
killings during the military dictatorship that took over after driving President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 1991.
Mr. Chamblain fled Haiti seeking exile in the Dominican Republic after U.S.
forces disbanded FRAPH and restored Mr. Aristide to the presidency three years
He was convicted in absentia for the murder of a pro-Aristide businessman and
for ordering the massacre of an estimated two dozen Aristide supporters in
the northern town of Gonaives.
In February 2004, as gang members and former soldiers swept through the
country, killing police officers and calling for Mr. Aristide's ouster, Mr.
Chamblain returned to Haiti to join their rebellion, which led to Mr. Aristide's
resignation and exile.
Under Haitian law, those convicted in absentia are entitled to a retrial, and
in April of last year, Mr. Chamblain turned himself in to Haitian police.
His convictions were overturned, but he remained behind bars during an
investigation into charges that he was responsible for the burning of a section of
the Aristide stronghold slum, Cite Soleil, in 1993. This month, the courts
declared there was not enough evidence to keep him in jail, and he was released.
In the northern town of Cap-Haitien, where rebels patrolled the streets until
they were driven out by U.N. peacekeepers last spring, reactions to Mr.
Chamblain's release were mixed.
Lucner Obas, a 26-year-old farmer, said it illustrates how bad the system is.
"Naturally, it's proof we don't have justice in Haiti, because the process
was never completed," he said. "Chamblain was accused, and the process was badly
done on the correctional, as well as the judicial level."
Mr. Obas believes Mr. Chamblain's decision to turn himself in was part of a
"It was a sort of charade. Everyone can see that, even a baby," he said.
Meanwhile, Yvon Neptune, who was prime minister under Mr. Aristide, remains
in jail. He was arrested in June 2004, on charges he ordered the killing of
anti-Aristide activists in the coastal town of St. Marc during the February 2003
Haitians remain deeply divided between supporters and opponents of Mr.
Aristide's Lavalas party. Mr. Obas is among those who is angered by the ex-prime
minister's continuing imprisonment.
"On the subject of the former prime minister, Yvon Neptune, the people in
general, and the justice system as well, must demand his liberation," he said.
"The incarceration of Mr. Neptune is a crime."
Members of the U.S. Congress have repeatedly called for Mr. Neptune's
release, calling his detention politically motivated and a human rights violation.
In his final news conference before leaving his post in Haiti this month,
U.S. Ambassador James Foley called Mr. Chamblain's release a "scandal,"
particularly while Mr. Neptune remains in jail without the presentation of any evidence
As under former President Aristide, the vast majority of Haitians behind bars
have not yet been tried, and many go months before seeing a judge.
A 36-year-old taxi-driver, who refused to give his name for fear of being
targeted, said it was too dangerous to comment on Mr. Neptune, but he called the
Chamblain release fair.
"If someone's going to turn himself in, and in a country like this, where
it's particularly easy to go to jail and hard to get out, it must be because they
didn't find he had done anything wrong, and he must be liberated," he said.
Yet, like many Haitians, the driver has little faith in his country's justice
system and believes elections planned for November will make little
difference, saying previous elections were not seen as credible. He also criticized the
international community, the United States and former colonial power France,
"Generally, we're never going to have justice in Haiti," the driver said. "
We're never going to have it because although we have laws they are not
respected, you know? And elections. I don't think we'll ever have elections in Haiti.
We've never had elections and we never will have elections in Haiti. Even if
there are people elected, it's always a selection."
A transitional government has been running Haiti since early 2004, and
elections have been set for November, but logistical problems have delayed voter
registration, and pessimism about elections is widespread. Potential voters cite
the problems of violence, particularly in the nation's capital, and widespread
apathy about the candidates.
To Jean-Louis, a 27-year-old unemployed technician who declined to give his
last name, Haitians are too concerned about putting food on their tables to
worry about elections or what goes on in the courts.
"What matters is social justice, because, you see, really, there is a gap in
the society between those with the economic means to live and those without,"
he said. "And that's a form of injustice for people who don't have, because,
essentially, that causes all the problems of insecurity across the country nowâ
Is the country prepared for elections? I don't really think so, considering
the level of security we must have by October."
Forwarded as a service of the Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the
Haitian people's struggle for human rights, participatory democracy and equitable
development - since 1992.
Web site: www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org