Haiti: Human Rights Lawyers Face a Rising Tide of Persecution

Prominent human rights attorney and long-time CJA partner Mario Joseph is reporting an escalation of threats and harassment of his law offices.  These threats come as possible retaliation for bringing legal claims against former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and the current government of Michel Martelly.  Learn how you can take action to defend Mario Joseph and his important work.

In 2009, CJA presented the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award to human rights lawyer Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), a public interest law firm in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Now Mario Joseph and BAI face an escalating series of death threats, intimidation, and spurious arrest warrants.  It is no coincidence that BAI is the driving force behind Haiti’s most prominent human rights cases, including:

  • proceedings to hold former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier accountable for crimes against humanity;
  • complaints against the UN for their alleged involvement in spreading the cholera epidemic in Haiti;
  • a July 2012 petition requesting the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to investigate human rights violations in Haiti;
  • the successful prosecution of 57 perpetrators of the 1994 Raboteau massacre before the Criminal Tribunal of Gonaives in 2000—the largest human rights trial in the Western Hemisphere.

Mario Joseph’s work with BAI and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) has also been a crucial springboard for CJA’s Haiti cases in the United States, including the judgments against death squad leader Emmanuel Toto Constant and Colonel Carl Dorélien – one of the key defendants in the Raboteau Massacre Case who fled to Florida.

“We are going to burn down the BAI office": Death Threats, Vandalism, & False Charges

Attorney Joseph has received threats periodically throughout his career. But the current intimidation appears more organized, more persistent, and more closely linked to the Haitian government than previous incidents. Shortly after a Haitian Judge dismissed the political violence charges against Jean-Claude Duvalier on January 30, 2012, Joseph began receiving threatening phone calls from an untraceable line: “we are going to kill you,” “we are going to put a bul­let in you,” “we are going to burn down the BAI office.” In the same period, vandals scrawled graffiti on the walls of BAI’s headquarters: “met Mario, Duvalier gen dwa tou” (Attorney Mario, Duvalier has rights too) and “BAI = vole inter­na­tional” (BAI = international thieves).

These threats were accompanied by harassment by police and judicial officers. In July 2012, police conducted warrantless searches and surveillance of the BAI offices.

Later, on September 26, 2012, the Chief Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince, Jean Renel Senatus, reported that Haiti’s Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon had ordered the arrest of 39 political opponents of the Martelly Government, including Mario Joseph and two other lawyers who had filed corruption complaints against President Martelly and his family members. Attorney Senatus was allegedly fired for refusing to execute the arrest order and refusing to close the BAI offices under judicial seal. Although Justice Minister Sanon has denied that he issued these orders, Attorney Senatus has repeatedly confirmed his report to the Haitian press.

Take Action to Defend Mario Joseph and BAI’s Critical Human Rights Work

On October 4, 2012, Amnesty International issued an urgent Action Alert calling on supporters to urge the Haitian government to investigate the threats against human rights lawyers, clarify the bases for the charges against the 39 political opponents, and ensure that investigations and prosecutions comply with constitutional and international standards for due process.