La Presse in Haiti | Judges hunted because they know too much

Access to the courthouse is controlled by an armed gang. A judge was kidnapped. The President of the Bar Association, murdered. Justice officer, threatened. In such a climate, will Haiti be able to bring those who killed its president to justice? Picked up by our special envoy on site, the judges are alarmed that the system is on the verge of implosion at such a critical moment.

Posted on Aug 21, 2021 at 5:00 am

Vincent Larouche The press

(Port-au-Prince) Justice of the Peace Clément Noël would have liked to hear less. On the day the president was assassinated, police asked him to question two suspects. When one of the men started naming politicians who would have attended meetings prior to the operation, the magistrate felt his world change.

“My whole ordeal begins from this moment,” he said.

Since then the magistrate has been hunted. He had to leave his house with his wife and daughter in a gust of wind to settle in a secret place. He parks his car far from his place of work, leaves the office as quickly as possible, takes a motorcycle taxi and maneuvers through the hellish traffic jams of the Haitian capital to see potential chasers before returning to his vehicle.

PHOTO VINCENT LAROUCHE, THE PRESS

Justice of the Peace Clément Noël

I haven’t returned home since July 11th. We go from one house to another. A stressful situation.

Clément Noël, Justice of the Peace

The main features of President Jovenel Moïse’s death are well known. At around 1 a.m. on July 7, a commando group penetrated the head of state and rifled him with bullets.

A group of former Colombian soldiers hired by mysterious sponsors were arrested in the hours that followed, along with two “translators”.

That day, Justice of the Peace Cément Noël went to the police to hear the two “translators”.

One of the two suspects said he had attended meetings with Haitian politicians prior to the operation. One of them was Florida-based Haitian Christian Emmanuel Sanon, who described himself as a doctor and pastor and said he wanted to become President of Haiti.

There were also local politicians, according to the suspect.

“That’s when he starts insulting me. And from the secret service, I said that, given the scale of the situation, the main thing was to stop the hearing. Because I couldn’t give the impression that I had too sensitive information. It’s so easy to commit a crime in the country, I couldn’t handle it, ”he says.

“If a president can die this way, so can you”

But it was too late. The suspect had already named three influential leaders of the Haitian political class, whose names were on record.

Shortly afterwards, Clément Noël received an anonymous call. “If a president can die this way, so can you,” the voice on the phone reportedly told him. However, he continued his work and authorized two searches of prominent people suspected of collusion with the assassins.

A friend of the government then warned him that he was in danger. Some accused him of maliciously adding the names of politicians to the list of suspects in order to harm them.

Another friend, well placed in the machinery of government, suggested that he leave the country or hide in a provincial town. “He said to me, ‘Your report contains some extremely sensitive information.’ ”

His wife received another call. “We said to him: ‘Your husband is trying to hide, we will have your control, we will approach you anyway,’” the magistrate recalls.

Throughout the interview, countless people knocked on the door of his small office at the Pétion-Ville Peace Court for advice, a signature on a document, a statement. The hallway is as crowded as the Montreal metro is at rush hour, people huddle on top of each other in the scorching heat. The phone keeps ringing.

The magistrate admits to being afraid, but continues to work. “If everyone deviates from their responsibilities, who will take them on? “, he asks.

Wave of kidnappings

His colleague, Justice of the Peace, Fidélito Dieudonné, is not surprised by this story. “There is uncertainty everywhere,” he complains.

He knows that threats come quickly these days when the going gets tough.

We do our best but we know that certain files can expose us to all kinds of threats. And we also know that we are not protected.

Fidélito Dieudonné, Justice of the Peace

The worsening security situation and the emergence of gangs are currently on everyone’s lips in Haiti. This week, too, they interrupted the flow of earthquake disaster relief because a street was occupied by criminal groups. Doctors were even kidnapped by gangs as those injured in the earthquake continued to pour into the capital.

But the growing insecurity and impunity also seriously disrupts the country’s already fragile judicial system, when one of the most important judicial investigations in Haiti’s history was the assassination of an incumbent president. More than forty suspects have been arrested, but no investigating judge has picked up the case, a crucial step in the country’s system. The appointee withdrew “for reasons of personal convenience”.

Fidélito Dieudonné says the fear of being killed is unfortunately now influencing judges’ decisions, especially in cases involving influential people.

“There are times when we should make certain decisions, but because we are so immersed in reality we are forced to take care of our skin,” he says.

In another case last winter, he said he had already settled a civil dispute over ownership of a luxury residence that “someone high in government” was trying to usurp. For his protection, he came to the scene with two police officers. But across the street, the “chief officer” arrived with six police officers. The man indicated that misfortune might happen to him, he said.

“They were outnumbered. I had to withdraw from court, ”he explains.

Received a bullet in court

The situation was critical even before the president died. A year ago the President of Port-au-Prince was shot dead in his home. In March another justice of the peace was kidnapped by bandits in the capital. His family and colleagues banded together to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers, which enabled his release.

“The uncertainty in Haiti is generalized. Not only the judges are victims. But since the judges are generally tasked with fighting crime and banditry, they are often the subject of many threats in order to decide one way or another, ”explains investigating magistrate Martel Jean-Claude. in an overwhelmed tone, President of the Professional Association of Judges.

PHOTO VINCENT LAROUCHE, THE PRESS

Martel Jean-Claude, President of the Judges’ Association

According to him, there are indeed judges ready to take up the case of the death of Jovenel Moïse. But we have to give them the means to protect themselves.

“The judge-designate has to feel safe. His family too. A lot of resources have to be used for this, ”he says.

We also have to solve an urgent problem: the courthouse in Port-au-Prince, where trials are normally supposed to take place, is currently almost deserted because its entrance is in front of the “base of the gang” “5 Secondes”, specialist in kidnappings and allegedly to have the easy trigger.

You can go to court temporarily, but you have no peace of mind. We can hear gusts, we are not sure whether we will leave safely.

Martel Jean-Claude, President of the Judges’ Association

Mr Jean-Claude says that a witness and a bailiff have already been shot in court. He doubts people will feel comfortable coming there for trials of the president’s death.

Several legal groups called for the court to be relocated for security reasons, but the government refused on the pretext that the state could not escape from the bandits. So far, however, the police have not been able to break the gang.

“So we get into this situation where we have to keep the courthouse in this place out of pride, but it is not functional,” regrets Martel Jean-Claude.

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