Haiti: judge seeks charges in journalist’s murder

On Jan. 17 Haitian investigative judge Yvickel Dabrésil issued a report on the April 2000 murder of the popular journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, the guard at Dominique's Haïti Inter radio station. Dabrésil recommended that the three-judge Appeals Court panel handling the case issue charges against Mirlande Libérus Pavert, a former senator from the Lavalas Family (FL) party, as the intellectual author of the killing. The report also named former Port-au-Prince deputy mayor Gabriel Harold Sévère and Marie Annette Auguste, a folksinger and FL activist widely known as Sò An ("Sister Anne"), along with six others: Frantz Camille, Jeudy Jean Daniel, Markenton Michel, Toussaint Mercidieu, Mérité Milien and Dimsley Milien. Dominique's widow, Michèle Montas, said the report was "a positive step, almost 10 years after I went to the appellate court to demand that the intellectual authors, those who ordered and planned the crime, be identified."

Famously outspoken, Dominique had denounced both rightwing politicians and politicians in the populist FL, the party headed by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004). At least 19 witnesses testified before Judge Dabrésil in his 2011-2013 investigation, including Aristide and former president René Garcia Préval (1996-2001 and 2006-2011). The judge based his accusation against Mirlande Libérus on testimony from Aristide's former chief of security, Oriel Jean, who was charged with drug trafficking by the US in 2004 and served a three-year sentence ending in 2007. Jean named Libérus as the person who wanted "to shut Jean Dominique up." Dabrésil noted that she refused to leave her residence in the US to testify in his investigation. FL supporters suggested that the report's release was a maneuver by the government of President Michel Martelly ("Sweet Micky") as he and opposition parties argue over how and when to hold long-delayed legislative and local elections. Dabrésil's report noted that Aristide said in his testimony that Libérus was innocent and "mustn't be the victim of these lies" from Oriel Jean. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Jan. 18; Miami Herald, Jan. 18, from correspondent)

Meanwhile, the cases against former "president for life" Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier (1971-1986) for corruption and human rights abuses seem to remain stalled. Two Haitian human rights organizations held a press conference on Jan. 16 to mark the third anniversary of Duvalier's return to Haiti. The Collective Against Impunity demanded that "the Appeals Court stop trampling on the rights of citizens" and set "a date by which to rule on the case." The Duty to Remember Committee charged that Duvalier was "walking about the Republic as if nothing happened…and we, the victims, are the ones made to feel guilty." Two international organizations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), jointly issued a similar statement the day before, denouncing a "lack of political will and unacceptable court delays" that "are allowing [Duvalier] to escape justice for human rights violations." (The Jurist, Jan. 15; AlterPresse, Jan. 18)

There has been some progress on freeing the more than 5 million Swiss francs (about US$5.5 million) in a Swiss bank account held by Duvalier—apparently all that is left of the millions the dictator took when he fled Haiti in February 1986. As of Dec. 26, Switzerland's Federal Administrative Tribunal (TAF) had ruled that the way was open for the money to be restored to the Haitian government, on the grounds that Duvalier and his relatives had failed to offer evidence that the funds came from any source other than the Haitian government. (France Antilles, Martinique, Dec. 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 19.