I World Human Rights Leaders Call for Freedom for Pere Jean-Juste, Yvon Neptune and Other Haitian Political Prisoners
By BILL QUIGLEY, Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. Bill 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. Bill can be reached at Quigley@loyno.edu
What do the UN Commision 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 Neptune.
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 Conscience 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. Parlimentarians 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 high income areas?
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 is a professor at the Loyola University-New Orleans School of Law. He 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 Quigley@loyno.edu