Haiti: will case against rights lawyer be dropped?

Reynold Georges, a lawyer for former Haitian “president for life” Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier (1971-1986), is planning to drop a complaint he filed in August against human rights attorney Patrice Florvilus, according to Florvilus’ lawyers. Flovilus, who represents homeless people living in the Acra displaced persons camp in the Delmas section of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, has been working to get prosecutors to investigate fires set at the camp in April and the death of a camp resident while in police custody at the same time; the incidents occurred shortly after Georges and Duvalier claimed the land belonged to the ex-dictator.

Georges retaliated by charging Florvilus with arson and “association with wrongdoers,” apparently an effort to blame camp residents and their attorney for the fires. Florvilus’ lawyers countered by filing a complaint with the Port-au-Prince bar association over Georges’ unprofessional conduct. Georges indicated at an Aug. 22 meeting in the Port-au-Prince prosecutor’s office that he was now backing off from his complaint.

Florvilus and his organization, the Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), received strong support from Haitian rights organizations and from people still living in camps three and a half years after they were made homeless by a January 2010 earthquake. Hundreds of camp residents and others marched to the prosecutor’s office on Aug. 19 in solidarity with Florvilus, and on Aug. 21 eight organizations—including the Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA) coalition, the Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR) and the labor rights organization Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle”)—issued a statement backing Florvilus and denouncing “the repeated maneuvers of manipulation of the legal system to carry out repression against human rights defenders.”

Despite the apparent legal victory, Florvilus and the DOP have received several death threats, and the lawyer and the group’s staff have had to take various security measures. The London-based rights organization Amnesty International (AI) issued an urgent action in May on behalf of Florvilus and one of his clients, Darlin Lexima. (AlterPresse, Haiti, May 23, Aug. 21Aug. 23Collective of Organizations for the Defense of the Right to Housing statement, Haiti, Aug. 21; Truth-Out, Aug. 22)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 1.