HAITI: One Murderer Behind Bars – But for How Long?

Jane Regan

PETION-VILLE, Haiti, Apr 23 2004 (IPS) - When alleged death squad leader and rebel commander Louis Jodel Chamblain handed himself over to authorities this week, the number of gun-toting criminals on Haiti’s streets and hillsides dropped by one.

When alleged death squad leader and rebel commander Louis Jodel Chamblain handed himself over to authorities this week, the number of gun-toting criminals on Haiti’s streets and hillsides dropped by one.

But human rights observers are not overly optimistic.

With armed groups ruling many parts of the country, a nearly non-existent police force, an antiquated justice system based on Napoleonic Code and gross injustices and a society divided by sharp class and political differences, one more man behind bars probably will not change the situation much, they say.

In the north, a group calling itself the “Kosovo Army” ransoms people and has its own jail. In other cities and towns, members of the Haitian National Front rebel army and scores of armed thugs who joined them after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Feb. 29 ouster occupy police stations or intersections.

>From a force of 7,000, the notoriously corrupt and brutal Haitian National Police (PNH) corps has dwindled to only about 1,400 men and women. When enrolment for the PNH academy opened this week, a young man was trampled to death and almost two dozen others injured in the melee at the front door as officers snuck friends and paying clients in through the back.

Earlier this month, former Haitian army top commander and now Minister of Interior, Herard Abraham, surprised rights groups when he announced he will accept former soldiers into the crippled force.

Aristide dismantled the Haitian Armed Forces in 1995. A tool of the Duvalier regime (1957-86) and the post-Duvalier dictatorships it was responsible for generations of murders, coups and repression. Nevertheless, Abraham said that once ex-soldiers have been vetted and trained, “they will be integrated into the police”.

Today, the U.S.-led multinational force of some 3,600 men and women does little more than carry out occasional patrols, and these in only parts of the country. As of last week, only about 150 weapons had been collected in its “disarmament” efforts, which many Haiti experts call vital to the country’s future. Most of the weapons were rusty and dysfunctional, journalists observed.

The 3,000 prisoners the Front released from the country’s jails remain free. Murders, kidnappings, hold-ups and rapes are reported almost every day country-wide. This week the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Haiti’s children have been severely affected by the recent crisis and violence, and that some 2,000 of them are living on the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince.

Most of Haiti’s cities and towns are running virtually on their own. The Aristide-appointed mayors and councils have evaporated, perhaps fearing reprisals for their actions while in power. The doors of most of the country’s courthouses are also locked shut. A number of them were ransacked in the days leading up to Aristide’s departure.

“It’s clear that this government doesn’t control the national territory,” Eliphaite St Pierre, general secretary of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organisations (POHDH), told IPS. “And so far, the government has not shown us that it has any kind of different vision, not for disarmament or public security or justice”.

Amidst some pomp and circumstance and a great deal of media attention Thursday, Chamblain turned himself into the police exactly 10 years after Haitian soldiers and members of the paramilitary death squad FRAPH (the so-called Front for the Advancement of Progress of the Haitian People) attacked Raboteau, the poor seaside slum of the northern city of Gonaives, killing somewhere between eight and two dozen people.

FRAPH, which rights investigators and journalists later linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and to numerous cases of arson, rape and murder, terrorised and killed supporters of then-President Aristide in 1993 and 1994, following the 1991 coup.

Chamblain, who says the organisation was a purely political group, was FRAPH’s Number Two man. He and its leader, Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, fled Haiti when Aristide returned in 1994 – Constant to New York, where he remains today, and Chamblain to the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

Chamblain was eventually tried and convicted in absentia for the “Raboteau massacre” and for the murder of businessman and Aristide supporter Antoine Izmery. He returned to Haiti this year to help command the rag-tag rebel army that shot and killed at least a dozen people as it took over half of the country’s police headquarters last February.

Despite the convictions, Chamblain – as well as other convicted rights abusers and the over 3,000 prisoner rebels released from the country’s prisons – spent the last two months touring the country, giving interviews, calling for the reestablishment of the Haitian Armed Forces and even meting out justice at impromptu “trials”.

During the same period, new Haitian Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse arrested or issued travel bans for dozens of ex-Aristide officials and expelled scores of officers from the police. Among those behind bars is ex-Minister of the Interior Jocelerme Privert.

Groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the local National Coalition for Haitian Rights all raised their voices against the arrests, condemning the obvious double standard.

Perhaps that explains the choreographed and reporter-friendly event Thursday. Dressed to the nines in a grey suit and seated before a roomful of local and foreign reporters, Chamblain cried as he noted he was performing an “heroic act”.

“I am handing myself over to be a prisoner so that Haiti has a chance for the real democracy that I am fighting for, for the real justice for which I have always fought,” said Chamblain, tears welling up in his eyes.

Guy Philippe, commander-in-chief of the Front, had his hands on Chamblain’s shoulders, but he was crying so hard he had to leave the room.

Claiming that a fair trial would vindicate him, Chamblain called on others – including officials and members of Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party suspected in rights violations and corruption – to turn themselves in. He then walked across the room, gave his gun to another Front member, was fingerprinted and took up residence in a jail cell.

Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse was on hand at the police station. After the lock on the old cell door clicked shut, he spoke to reporters, praising Chamblain’s “good and noble decision”.

“Justice will be done, no matter what camp one is from,” said Gousse, who added that a judge will open new investigations and if evidence is found, will try Chamblain all over again.

Standing outside the jail, Philippe said he disagreed with Chamblain’s decision, adding that he hoped police would now arrest Aristide’s former prime minister, Yvon Neptune, and other members of the Lavalas party, whom he said are implicated in gross human rights violations.

While they cautiously applauded Chamblain’s gesture, many rights observers in Haiti and abroad are fearful he will be a free man soon. In both murder cases for which he was convicted, Chamblain was accused of being behind the crimes, but not present at the scenes of the killings.

“If Chamblain is not tried, or is tried and found innocent, it would be a catastrophe and would encourage impunity in the country,” Pierre Esperance, director of the National Coalition of Haitian Rights, a member of the POHDH, told IPS.

FRAPH, he added, was implicated in many barbarous acts, including the October 2003 murder of Minister of Justice Guy Malary.

Esperance added that he hoped the country would not witness a “comedy of justice”, noting that while the justice system is severely crippled, “there are some honest judges”.

At the same time, he said, many arrests are needed of people implicated in crimes allegedly linked to the Aristide administration, including the Dec. 5, 2003 attack on a state university dean, the infamous December 2002 murder of three brothers, allegedly by police officers, and the destruction of a number of private radio station antennae and equipment early this year.

“There are many, many arrests that need to take place,” Esperance said.

According to St Pierre, “the underlying problem is, what kind of justice system to we want? Justice for who?”

“The country’s social actors need to force this government to hand out real justice,” he added. “We need to get them to pose the question differently.”

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HAITI: One Murderer Behind Bars – But for How Long?

Jane Regan

PETION-VILLE, Haiti, Apr 23 2004 (IPS) - When alleged death squad leader and rebel commander Louis Jodel Chamblain handed himself over to authorities this week, the number of gun-toting criminals on Haiti’s streets and hillsides dropped by one.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags