"Justice. Verite. Independance."
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
March 25 - 31, 2009
Vol. 2, No. 36
by Mario Joseph
On Mar. 17, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), based in San Francisco, California, awarded the 2009 Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award to lawyer Mario Joseph of the Office of International Lawyers (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux or BAI) , a Haitian legal organization based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The previous week, on Mar. 8, Joseph received Santa Clara University Law School`s 2009 Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize in Santa Clara, California. It was the second annual Alexander Law prize to be awarded. The prize recognizes a member of the worldwide legal community who has used his or her skills, knowledge, and abilities to correct an injustice in a significant manner.
In recent years, Mario Joseph has become Haiti's foremost human rights lawyer, representing prominent political prisoners like former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, activist priest Father Gérard Jean-Juste, and Lavalas Family party leader Annette "So An" Auguste. Since 1996, he has been the BAI's chief trial lawyer and managing attorney, representing hundreds of victims of political violence and less well-known political prisoners.
He was also one of the lead prosecution lawyers in the watershed Raboto trial. In November 2000, he and his colleagues won the conviction of dozens of military and paramilitary officers who carried out a 1994 massacre in Raboto, a poor neighborhood of the northwestern city of Gona ves.
"We honor Mario Joseph for his passionate fight to improve the justice system in Haiti, and his selfless work on behalf of political prisoners, victims of political violence, and the poor," said Santa Clara Law Dean Donald Polden. "He is a fierce voice calling for justice amid threats to his own life. Mr. Joseph has not only freed individuals from injustice but has placed systematic pressure on the dictatorship to respect the rule of law. We honor him for his courageous leadership, his tireless service to those in need, and his dedication to preserving the rights of all."
The BAI also works in close collaboration with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), headed by U.S.-based lawyer Brian Concannon.
We present now excerpts from the remarks that Mario Joseph delivered on receiving the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award in San Francisco last week.
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I would like to thank the Center for Justice and Accountability for this award, on behalf of all the staff of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. I would like to accept the award in the name of the victims in Haiti, especially the victims of the Raboto massacre, whose courage and persistence make our work possible (...)
We have a proverb in Haiti, "men anpil, chay pa lou." It means "many hands make the burden light." (...)
In Haiti we carry many burdens. The burden of injustice, the burden of poverty, the burden of political instability. Often these burdens seem impossible to carry. But sometimes we find that if we have enough hands, we can carry them.
When we started the Raboto case, poor people had never used Haiti's courts to achieve justice against rich or powerful people. But we put our hands together with the Raboto victims, with human rights activists and with judges, prosecutors and police who believed in a democratic justice system for Haiti.
We carried the Raboto case as far as it could go in Haiti. We had a trial, convicted those responsible, and won a damage verdict for our clients. It was a historic victory. But the top leaders of the dictatorship, and their money, were no longer in our country; they were in yours.
Haiti's criminals and the U.S. government made the injustice of Raboto international. With CJA, we made the fight for justice international. CJA was a true collaborator, involving BAI and our clients in all the decisions. CJA took every step necessary to ensure that the Raboto victims got their day in American courts. Last May, I carried a nice burden, $430,000, to our clients in Raboto.
Many of Haiti's burdens are at least in part failures of the rule of law. When hurricanes come, the rain floods our cities quickly, because our laws against cutting trees on mountains above the cities are not enforced. Schools collapse on students because no one is held responsible for poor construction. Political violence breaks out when our constitution is ignored.
Our collaborative, legal approach can carry other burdens in Haiti. We have put our hands together with Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health to enforce the civil, political and health human rights of prisoners. We work with parents to enforce the human right to attend primary school, a right currently denied to half of our children. We work with political prisoners and their families to free the political prisoners remaining from our most recent dictatorship.
We are grateful for the helping hands of CJA, of Partners in Health, the Haiti Action Committee, Hastings Law School and from all our supporters in the U.S.. But Haitians need even more help from people in the U.S., because many of our burdens start in your country. [Former Haitian Army Colonel] Carl Dorelien and [former death squad leader] Toto Constant found refuge here because your government collaborated in their brutality in Haiti. The U.S. did not even recognize Haiti, the second independent country in the Americas, for almost sixty years. The U.S. has helped many of Haiti's 33 coup d'etats, including the most recent one in 2004, when our President was kidnapped and exiled to Africa on a U.S. plane.
So I ask you tonight to lend your hand to our fight for justice. We need you to ask your government to cancel Haiti's unjust debt to the World Bank, and to treat Haitians coming to the U.S. fairly. We need you to make sure that your government reverses its failed policies to Haiti- not just the failed policies of the last 8 years, but the failed policies of the last 200 years.
I know that sometimes Haiti's problems seem impossible to solve. But Haiti is the country where slaves won freedom by defeating Napoleon's army. It is where Dr. Paul Farmer's hospitals provide first-class treatment in remote mountain villages. It is where massacre victims from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Americas won justice against powerful, connected generals, in the courts of two countries. It is where "men anpil, chay pa lou."
COUP-INSTALLED CONSUL DOUBLY SHAMES HAITIAN EDUCATORS
by Lily Cerat
Félix Augustin has always been a controversial figure as Haiti's Consul General in New York. The de facto regime of Gérard Latortue rewarded him with the post after a U.S.-backed coup d'état overthrew elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004.
Augustin was a vocal spokesperson for that coup. As a leader of the so-called "Committee to Defend Democracy in Haiti" in New York, he wrote an infamous letter in 2002 to then Secretary of State Colin Powell calling for the U.S. to oust Aristide and occupy Haiti. Washington finally did exactly that.
Augustin works closely with his cousin, Raymond Joseph, the editor of the arch-reactionary weekly Haiti Observateur. The coup regime appointed Raymond Joseph as Haiti's Ambassador to Washington, a post he still holds.
Augustin has also publicly defended the atrocious human rights record of the de facto regime, arguing that political prisoners illegally and arbitrarily arrested during the coup deserved their fate. In 2005, he even attempted to personally eject a pro-democracy journalist from a public event where coup government officials were dining.
For all these reasons, several Haitian educators attending the 32nd Annual Conference of the New York State Association for Bilingual Education (NYSABE) on Mar. 14 were dismayed to learn that Augustin had been invited to address the gathering.
The annual conference brings together educators from around New York State who work with immigrants and non-English-speaking students and families. Also attending were those who conduct research on the value of maintaining a student's native language and culture and on how that impacts educational achievement.
Before inviting Augustin, NYSABE's Executive Committee did not consult all of the organization's Haitian membership, which may have protested. But faced with a fait accompli, Haitian educators resigned themselves to the prospect of Augustin giving remarks during the Awards Luncheon, a conference tradition where the NYSABE recognizes outstanding peer-nominated educators and students who have won the annual essay and art competition. (This year, Clifford Cedrik Lalanne, a bilingual Haitian student in PS 189's fifth grade, won third place for his essay in Haitian Creole entitled "How Do You Define Your Heritage, and How Does Your Heritage Define You?")
Some Haitian educators reasoned that Augustin might be able to boost teacher tourism to Haiti. This idea took hold with me. After all, teachers do travel. Plenty of vacation time is one of their few rewards. I began to envision Consul Augustin showing up on Saturday morning with a staff from the Consulate to set up a corner with Haitian arts and crafts, brochures, samples of Haitian coffee, rum, and cuisine. Under a banner saying "Come See and Taste Haiti," the consul would invite the attendees, about 350 educators, to come to Haiti during Christmas break, winter recess, spring break, the two summer months, or a few long weekends. There are even some Haitian and Haitian-American teachers who have not visited their homeland in ages. Encouraging words from a consul might have lured them back, especially with Delta Airlines inaugurating flights to Haiti this June.
My reverie grew when, by complete accident in the conference hotel's lobby, I met a woman waiting for a taxi. I told her about the conference, and she told me that she was a hydrogeologist, anxious for an opportunity to visit Haiti. Hydrogeology is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth's crust. Haiti needs to be visited by hydrogeologists, who can help us address our nation's dire water problems.
There were so many positive things that an upstanding and responsible Haitian Consul could promote with a good speech. But, obviously, Félix Augustin is not such a consul. After committing to the event, he simply never showed up. My Haitian colleagues and I were embarrassed to be represented by such a flaky official. Distance could not be the excuse: the conference took place at the Westchester Marriott, about an hour away from New York City.
Perhaps we should have expected no better from a man with Augustin's political credentials. However, his cavalier lapse reminded me why we must continue to fight for a government and diplomatic corps which are responsible, disciplined and democratic.
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