Haiti: government seeks to arrest rights lawyers

On Sept. 27 Haitian justice minister Jean Renel Sanon abruptly fired Port-au-Prince Government Commissioner Jean Renel Sénatus, the chief prosecutor for the capital and the fifth person to hold the position since President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) took office in May 2011. Sénatus’ replacement, Elco Saint-Armand, was only in office one day before he was replaced by Gérald Norgaisse. On Sept. 28 Sénatus announced on the radio that he had been removed because he refused to obey orders to arrest 36 government opponents, including three human rights attorneys: Mario Joseph, Newton Saint-Juste and André Michel.

Mario Joseph is a prominent human rights lawyer who heads the International Lawyers Office (BAI). He has filed a complaint against former “president for life” Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc,” 1971-1986) for human rights violations during his administration, and in July Joseph wrote to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in French), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), asking for the commission to investigate a long list of alleged human rights violations by the Martelly government. Saint-Juste and Michel have filed complaints against Martelly’s wife and son for alleged corruption and embezzlement of public funds. All three lawyers report having received death threats by phone.

The London-based human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) is asking for letters in French or English to Minister of Justice and Public Security Jean Renel Sanon (secretariat.mjsp@yahoo.com) and Port-au-Prince Government Commissioner Gérald Norgaisse (parquetpap@yahoo.fr), with copies to the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (info@ijdh.org), urging them to investigate the accusation of threats against the lawyers and to provide them with appropriate protection; to explain the alleged order to arrest 36 political opponents; and to ensure that anyone charged is given a fair trial in compliance with international standards. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Sept. 27; Haïti Libre, Haiti, Sept. 29; AI urgent action, Oct. 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct 21.