Lawyers abandon Haitian courts in protest
"If you are a lawyer, you are prevented from practicing your profession
to the norms," said lawyer Rigaud Duplan, president of the 500-member
Port-au-Prince Bar Association and one of hundreds who left judges and clients in
the lurch Tuesday.
The protest came after investigating Judge Henri Kesner Noel fled Haiti.
He said he
feared fo r his life after Haitian authorities pressured him to sign an arrest warrant
for former military dictator Prosper Avril, who was arrested minutes after being
released from prison on April 15.
"After innumerable violations of legal procedure and due process, the Noel
was the last straw," said lawyer Rene Julien who said most of the courts in major
Haitian towns were empty.
Lawyers, whose cases were postponed until Wednesday, blame the government
interfering in judicial matters, accuse prosecutors of not executing judges' orders
and complain there is no due process.
Despite a constitutional requirement that a person hear the charges against
within 48 hours of his detention, people are often detained for months in Haiti
without ever being charged.
Although the lawyers made no specific demands, they said they would consider
another strike if conditions didn't improve.
"We recognize the judicial system has many problems, and we're doing what
can to solve them," said Privat Precil, director-general of the justice ministry, in an
Noel, an investigating judge in the westcoast port of St. Marc, said he
summoned to the Port-au-Prince office of National Security on April 15 and forced
to sign Avril's warrant, which he had not drafted. On April 26, Noel and his family
flew to Miami.
The government denied putting political pressure on judges.
On April 11, the Port-au-Prince Appeals Court ordered Avril's immediate
saying his arrest last year for plotting to overthrow the government was illegal.
Four days later, Avril was in prison again, charged with complicity in
murder of about a dozen peasants killed by soldiers in the westcoast settlement
Piate, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of the capital. Piate is located in the
St. Marc jurisdiction.
Avril seized power in September 1988, but a popular uprising forced him
three days before the massacre took place on March 13, 1990.
He went into exile in the United States on March 12, 1990.
Human rights activists have blamed the former dictator for rights violations
his rule, but also denounced the government for keeping him in prison illegally.
In January, investigating Judge Claudy Gassant also fled Haiti, saying
he feared for
his life. He had been investigating the April 2000 assassination of Haiti's most
prominent journalist Jean Dominique.
"The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, it is
independent in practice and is subject to significant influence by the executive and
legislative branches," stated this year's U.S. State Department report on human
"Years of extensive corruption and governmental neglect have left the judicial
system poorly organized and nearly moribund."
A 20-member team from the Organization of American States is set to begin
mission to provide Haiti with technical assistance in security, justice, human rights,
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.