RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF INVESTIGATION, OPINION, EXPRESSION AND DISSEMINATION OF IDEAS, AND RIGHT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND FREEDOM OF WORSHIP
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
Every person has the right freely to profess a religious faith and to manifest and practice it both in public and private.
Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever.1
A. Freedom of investigation, opinion, expression and dissemination
1. Article 26 of the 1957 Constitution sets forth the right to freedom of expression in the following terms:
Everyone has the right to express his opinion on any matter and in any means within his power. The expression of thought, whatever form it takes, may not be subject to prior censorship except when a state of war has been declared.
Abuses of the right to freedom of speech shall be defined and punished by law, but this shall not infringe upon the right of the freedom of speech.
The underlined phrase was deleted from the 1964/1971 text currently in force (Article 26).
Current Haitian legislation contains a number of legal provisions that place considerable restrictions on the freedom of speech. The most important of these is the law of April 28, 1969:
Article 1. Communist activities, no matter what their form, are hereby declared crimes against the security of the State: all verbal or written, public or private expressions of communist teaching; all propagation of communist or anarchist doctrine by lectures, speeches, conversations, reading, public or private meetings; by tracts, placards, periodicals, newspaper articles, brochures, books, pictures, all written correspondence or verbal contact with local or foreign associations, or with persons involved in spreading communist or anarchist ideas, and receiving, collecting or providing funds directly or indirectly for the propagation of such ideas;
Article 2. All those, in whatever capacity: bookseller; owner or manager of a printing establishment; owner, manager or lessor of public or private meeting halls; owner, lessor or lessee of residences, religious minister, missionary, preacher, professor, primary school teacher, etc., who may have suggested or facilitated execution of such crimes, or harbored or given assistance to the authors of those crimes shall be declared guilty of the very same crimes;
Article 3. Individuals prosecuted under Articles 1 and 2 of the present law shall be tried before a permanent military court martial proceeding;
Article 4. The authors of an accomplices in crimes listed above shall receive the death penalty, and their goods and chattels shall be confiscated and sold for the benefit of the State;
Article 5. All individuals seized in flagrante delicto engaged in anarchist of terrorist activities are declared outlaws;
Article 6. The present law repeals all laws or provisions of laws, all decrees or provisions of decrees, all decree-laws or provisions of decree-laws that are contrary to it, and it shall be diligently executed by the State Secretaries for the Interior, Defense and/or Justice, as appropriate.
Done in the Legislature, Port-au-Prince, this 28th day of April 1969, in the 166th year of Independence.
The above provisions punish the mere expression of certain ideas or the mere profession, even in private, of certain articles of political belief by the death penalty. No specific action against the duly constituted powers of the state nor the creation of a danger for those powers is needed to make it a crime. Secondly, there is no specific legal definition of the ideologies condemned by this law.2
In short, the very broad principle of power granted under Article 2 can only serve as a brake or obstacle to free expression and dissemination of ideas in general. The same latitude is found in the decree of August 6, 1958 which punishes with imprisonment “authors and propagators of false information and rumors that could disturb the pace.”3
The dissemination of ideas by the broadcast media or written press is regulated, in addition to the aforementioned provisions, by a decree-law of June 13, 19504 and by a decree of August 26, 1957.5 The former decree-law imposes fines and prison on the press for insulting or libeling the President of the Republic, but the truth of the allegation may not be used as a defense (Articles 7 and 13). The second decree takes up the theme of the earlier decree, and calls for additional sentences for authors of “designs, engravings, pictures, writings or any other mode of expression of though (which) is intended to undermine the authority of one or more members of the constituent bodies of the State” (Articles 2 and 3).6
The Press Law of September 28, 1979
In the months prior to enactment of this law, government authorities had called in members of both the written and broadcast media and issued them warnings not to print or broadcast any information or comments on the government of Haiti or its top officials without prior approval. For example, there was no news at all about the damage caused by Hurricane David in September of 1979. These warnings, which were for the most part heeded, have now been codified into the present law.
The press law was also presaged by an official communiqué dated May 9, 1979 and signed by three government Ministers, which required that all films an theatre plays must be reviewed by an official committee, whose members are appointed by the government. This communiqué provoked a strong reaction in Haiti to the extent that some 200 intellectuals in the country signed a declaration opposing this form of prior censorship.
Any analysis of the law should being with Title III, “Freedom of the Press and its Limitations,” Article 21 of which begins with a ringing declaration of freedom of the press: “There is full freedom of the right to express thoughts and opinions on all subjects”; but it continues with a general qualifying clause by which exception is made for “instances of press abuse of violations determined by the law.” More seriously and even more broadly, Article 22 prohibits de press organs “from offending the Chief of State or the First Lady of the Republic” and “from making any attack against the integrity of the people’s culture.” It is obvious that the interpretations that might be given this article leave little room for the press to treat important facets of the national life without running the risk of being brought to court charged with violation of these prohibitions. Violation of the former carries with it imprisonment of one year and a fine of 2,000 to 5,000 gourdes. Also punishable by a fine of 1,000 to 2,000 gourdes and imprisonment of six months to two years are “any offense, any defamatory allegation or insinuation, or any wrong committed by the press against a Foreign Chief of State, a member of the diplomatic corps accredited to the country, a member of the Executive Branch other than the Chief of State, a member of the Legislative Branch, a member of the Court of Appeals or of the staff of that court in the exercise of their duties, a senior official” (Article 41). These as well as other provisions of the law extend not only to the author of the offense but also to any accomplice, such as editors, publishers and vendors.
Other parts of the law that merit discussion because of their possible influence on freedom of the press include Article 29, which prohibits “the entry, circulation and sale in the country of a foreign publication that is subversive or against good morals.” The phrase which we have underlined is so vague as to be susceptible of easy abuse. Moreover, Article 4 requires that “at the time of publication and before any distribution, five copies of the printed matter shall be deposited” with the Secretary for the Defense and Interior. Deposit before distribution opens the door for a prior censorship and destruction of the edition, such as happened with the Petit Samedi Soir at the time of the February 1979 election.
Finally, any discretion is taken from the press by Article 67 which states that the press must report “every official statement, every message or address by the Chief of State.”
In its Report to the XXXV General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association, the Commission on Freedom of the Press and Information, held in Toronto, Canada, October 19-25, 1979, stated that with the enactment of the new press law, which creates a National Press Association, all hope is lost of establishing freedom of expression in the country, since the Association will be able to decide who can and who cannot be a reporter in Haiti. The General Assembly itself resolved that the press law made freedom of the press impossible in Haiti and asked that President Duvalier amend the law before it entered into force in accord with his promise of democratization and freedom of expression.
2. Because of the legal restrictions described in the preceding paragraph, freedom of expression has in fact been extremely limited under the last two governments. According to denunciations received by the Commission, government acts restricting or abolishing freedom of expression have taken the following forms:
a. Admonition and warnings, of an increasingly severe nature, to journalists about the tenor of their articles or broadcasts;7
b. Prior censorship, notably, prohibition of new publications;8
c. Closing of existing newspapers on account of the ideas published;9
d. Personal threats against journalists and other citizens on account of their ideas or expressions;10
e. Personal aggression against journalists or other citizens on account of ideas they have expressed or circulated.11
f. Imprisonment of journalists and other citizens on account of their ideas;12
g. Death of journalists and other citizens on account of their ideas or expressions, either by simple homicide13 or by execution in prison.14
Illustrations of these denunciations are provided in the cases described below. To these must be added the cases described in preceding chapters, particularly as regards the right to life, liberty and personal security, to the extent that those violations were motivated by the victims’ ideas, speech or dissemination.
3. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has received communications denouncing violation of the right to the freedom of inquiry, opinion, expression and dissemination in the following specific cases:
According to denunciations concerning this case, Mr. Ezéchiel Abélard, a night-time radio announcer on Radio Métropole was arrested in October 1975 and taken to Fort Dimanche, where he was held in cell Nº 6. In September 1976, without having had the benefit of any legal proceeding, Mr. Abélard died in prison of tuberculosis. The Commission transmitted the pertinent parts of these denunciations to the Government.
Other information received by the Commission reports that Mr. Abélard was not involved in political affairs, but at the time he was arrested, was conducting a survey on a housing project planned by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
On June 1st, 1976, Mr. Gasner Raymond, a twenty-three year old journalist, was found dead by the side of the road leading from Port-au-Prince to Léogâne. Mr. Raymond was a reporter for the independent weekly Le Petit Samedi Soir.
Two weeks before his death, an article appeared in Le Petit Samedi Soir under Mr. Raymond’s line, in which he violently criticized the government for having used troops to stop a worker’s strike in the Haitian Cement Factory; it appeared that this was the first labor intervention of this type in 16 years. In earlier articles, Mr. Raymond had denounced corruption and immorality among the Catholic clergy in Haiti.
According to denunciations received by the Commission shortly before his death, Mr. Raymond had received death threats from the police because of his article on the strike at the Haitian Cement plant.
Two and half months before Mr. Raymond’s death, Le Petit Samedi Soir published an article reporting that Gasner Raymond and other reporters had been interrogated for four hours by authorities of Petit-Goave. The article mentioned the threats and the pressures to which the reporters were subjected and commented:
We still feel a certain anxiety when we are waiting for Carl Henry Guiteau, Jules Nicolas or Gasner Raymond, when they are expected back from following up a lead.15
The denunciation received about this case describes Mr. Raymond’s death as an assassination; it places responsibility in the hands of the security forces, and suggests that the motives therefore were Mr. Raymond’s articles on the strike and the desire to make an example of him, and use his death as a warning.
The government of Haiti replied in the following terms to the requests for information, as called for under the Regulations:
This affair could well be classed, like so many others throughout the world, as one of those that upsets and confuse public opinion, and disconcerts the police and the courts. Here are the unvarnished facts:
One morning, a body was discovered on the road from Port-au-Prince to Léogâne, it was Gasner RAYMOND. The editor of the newspaper where he worked wrote to the Ministry of the Interior asking him to open an inquiry on the murder. A communiqué from the Association of Haitian Journalists acknowledged that the necessary investigations had been conducted, but that despite the efforts of the military and judicial authorities, there was no evidence on which to base a charge. Ill-intentioned people attempted to bring politics into this affair, but were never able to provide any proof.
The Question is still there, and neither the Police nor the courts have abandoned their efforts to shed light on this deplorable murder.16
According to Le Petit Samedi Soir, the results of the official inquiries have not yet been published.17 The person denouncing this affair stated that:
Since Haiti has no independent inquest services or judiciary services, it may be concluded in advance that neither the military or police authorities nor the courts would have found sufficient evidence to warrant an accusation in this affair…an accusation which could implicate their own services.
According to Le Petite Samedi Soir, the official enquiry was headed by Major Maxine Antoine, of the Criminal Investigation Division and by Colonel Jean Valmé, of the Dessalines Barracks.18
Another denunciation received by the Commission describes “Militiamen” from the Port-au-Prince Police Headquarters as having perpetrated the crime, and quotes Mr. Joseph René, a current member of the National Jeanclaudiste Action Council, Mr. Ti-Georges Saillé, owner of houses of prostitution in the capital city, and Mr. Azis, director of the Ciment d’Haiti Corporation, as instigators. The Commission has transmitted the pertinent elements of this communication to the government, along with part of a newspaper article giving further information on Mr. Raymond’s movements two hours before his corpse was discovered.
On December 7, 1979, the government stated that “any allegation that the police made threats against Mr. Raymond’s life because of an article written about the strike is specious, false and malicious.” The government also stated that the investigation of Raymond’s death is being carried on by the police force, and noted that the case is still “open” and the investigation is continuing.
The Commission is continuing its processing of this case.
The facts in this case may be summarized by quoting part of a recent report on freedom of the press in Haiti. This is the report of the Inter-American Press Association on the status of the press in Haiti, drawn up by Messrs. Wilbur Landrey and Alex W. Maldonado, dated February 27, 1978:
Since the case of Hebdo Jeune Presse is the cause of the present gloom among young Haitian newsmen, we will go into it in some detail.
In November, when Bob Nerée, editor of Jeune Presse was in France at the invitation of the French government, a succession of articles appeared in Hebdo Jeune Press that were daring for Haiti. One was about the Amnesty International report on deaths in Haitian prisons in the early 1970s. Another was a story about the new role of the Haitian army. Another said liberty begins with freedom of the press. And then came the article about the National Security Volunteers, the militia formed by François Duvalier to support him in power. That article recounted that these Tonton Macoutes, more discreet since the younger Duvalier had come to office, were resuming their old bad ways in many parts of the country. The key phrase was the recommendation that the army be used to curb the excesses of the VSN.
Almost every week Bob’s father, Rev. Nerée, who was acting editor in Bob’s absence, was called in and warned by Interior Minister Aurèlien Jeanty that the newspaper was going too far. On the same afternoon that the criticism on the VSN appeared—on December 8, a Thursday—Rev. Nerée was summoned again. Present this time were also Col. Jean Valmé, chief of security at the Dessalines barracks, and his two principal assistants. Valmé is in charge of internal security.
The Nerées do not want to talk about any of this, but at that meeting, Jeanty is reported to have told the elder Nerée that this was the last warning. Jeanty is also reported to have said he would be watching for the next issue of the newspaper and to have said he would be watching for the next issue of the newspaper and to have told the elder Nerée that if he thought President Carter could do something for him, he would see it wasn’t true.
Three days after that meeting, on Sunday, Bob Nerée returned home from Europe. Then on Tuesday, December 13, the attack came on his father.
It was in the evening. Rev. Nerée came out of his church after Bible Class and got into his car with his sister-in-law, Bob’s aunt. The account we got of this from several sources is that the then drove away from the church on the divided highway and made a U-turn to come back in the other lane. When they were almost in front of the church again, a red car cut them off and forced Rev. Nerée to stop. Then it deliberately backed into his car.
Two men got out, and CAME back to him. They were later identified as VSN members. They told him to get out and look at the damage he had caused. At the urging of his sister-in-law, he refused, suggesting that an insurance agent be called. By this time, another car had driven up behind. The driver of that car got out, walked to the aunt’s side of the car, dragged her out, knocked her down and kicked her under the car.
There is some confusion about what followed, but the car went to the police headquarters, where policemen took notes, and then to the hospital. One of the local VSN leaders, a Weber Guerrier, was said by some reports to have arrived at the police station to have demanded why Nerée had not been taken instead to the notorious political prison of Fort Dimanche.
When Bob Nerée and his friends heard about the beating, they immediately began spreading the word. They informed the U.S. Embassy, the story began going out on the radio stations, even on the government station until it suddenly quit mentioning the incident the next day. When the newspapers came out, Le Matin reported what became the government line—that it was a traffic accident. The government newspaper, Le Nouveau Monde, reported that it didn’t have enough details to say exactly what happened. Le Nouvelliste, an independent newspaper and the oldest in Haiti, reported that Nerée had been attacked.
At a press conference, the government issued a communiqué saying the beating appeared to have resulted from a dispute over a traffic accident. At the same time, the communiqué defended the mission of the VSN and then reiterated the principles of “democratization and liberalization.” It also called on the press to cooperate in development of the country and said the press would benefit from public security.
The communiqué was not good enough for the Haitian newsmen, and the press conference itself was an indication of how far things have moved in Haiti. The newsmen present threw hard questions at Jeanty about what had happened, about how their security would be guaranteed. The communiqué mentioned that the men involved in the Nerée affair would be judged. The questioners asked who would judge them and elicited their names. And the newsmen pushed Jeanty to make a significant statement “You must know that you cannot just write anything,” he said, “You must know that in writing, you inform and at the same time you educate. It’s your duty.” These were almost the same words the President used when he talked to us.
The text of this extraordinary (for Haiti) press conference was printed in Le Nouvelliste, a fact that was also extraordinary. And the same newspaper printed an agency story on the Nerée attack which was at variance with the government communiqué.
On behalf of the Association of Haitian journalists, Charlier also issued a communiqué on the Thursday of the press conference. It protested the unjustified attack on Nerée by two citizens after an auto accident. Some other newsmen we talked to considered the communiqué both tardy and weak. They saw it as another example of their charge that the association did not really represent the interest of Haitian newsmen.
Nothing has been heard of any trial of the attackers since the press conference. Newsmen and diplomats we talked to reported that the men involved were released after being in custody overnight.
Meanwhile, after the attack, Bob Nerée simply suspended the publication of his newspaper in protest and it hasn’t appeared since. The attack left Rev. Nerée paralyzed on one side and 42 days later he underwent surgery to relieve a subdural hematoma that was causing the paralysis. It was successful. “We stopped publication of Jeune Presse because we don’t think the necessary work conditions or guarantees for press freedom as we conceive them exist in Haiti.”
The Commission has received additional information on this case, according to which, one of the cars involved in the incident belonged to Mr. Weber Guerrier, head of the National Security Volunteers. The material authors of the attack, according to the denunciations received, were given very light sentences, were released, a few days after the trial ended, and continued to receive their salaries during the time they were under sentence. On July 29, 1978, at the Militia Day celebrations, these two individuals were standing just behind the President of the Republic.
The Commission has transmitted to the government the pertinent parts of the denunciations received in this case.
The government, on December 7, 1979, reported that Rev. Luc Nerée is not paralyzed or incapacitated in any way, and has been carrying out all of his former functions, except with respect to the newspaper with which he was formally associated.
The weekly magazine Regard was founded by Mr. Guay César in October 1977. The first issue appeared on October 14 of that year, under the editorial direction of its founder. According to denunciations received, on November 3, 1977, the State Secretary for the Interior and Defense, Mr. Aurélien C. Jeanty, called Mr. César to his office to tell him that the Government had decided to close Régard. No valid reason was given to warrant closing the magazine.
On March 13, 1979, Mr. César informed the Commission that Régard would reopen on March 31.
On December 7, 1979, the government informed the Commission that “Mr. Guay César, owner of the magazine, began publication without heeding the long-established law to deliver a small number of copies to the Ministry of the Interior in advance of publication. The Ministry of the Interior did call Mr. César in to draw his attention to this rule. This was the sole purpose of the meeting. It is also believed that the true reason for closing the magazine was a lack of capital and the small sales volume. The government has at present, and has had in the past, no objection to resumption of publication of Mr. César’s magazine.”
The following quotation is found in the Langrey-Maldonado report of February 27, 1978 to the Inter-American Press Society:
Jean Magloire served as Minister of Interior in the François Duvalier government. During Duvalier’s heart attack in 1959, Magloire in effect ran the country. Owner of a sand and concrete construction company, he is a member of the small Haitian wealthy class.
During the previous regime, Magloire published his newspaper Aedipe. Six years ago, however, following François Duvalier’s death, Magloire was called by a high military officer and ordered to suspend publication. The officer said the orders came from “higher up”. In September of 1973 Magloire tried again to publish a newspaper and was again ordered to stop.
In the still optimistic days of November, 1977, Magloire attempted once more to publish Aedipe. The first issue ran an editorial quoting the President’s statements on freedom of the press. It also called for free elections. After several copies reached the street, Magloire was called by the Minister of the Interior and ordered to stop publication. The paper has not reappeared. It is generally believed that the government considers Magloire as a potential source of conservative political opposition.
On December 7, 1979, the government stated that the editor of the Journal Aedipe had been called to the Ministry of the Interior for the same reason as that given in the Régard case and not with a view to ordering suspension of publication. Indeed, since the editor of Aedipe publicly sympathizes with the political views of the President of Haiti, it is a rather dubious proposition that suspension of the journal was influenced by government action.
Le Petit Samedi Soir Case
Following legislative elections on February 11, 1979, the weekly Le Petit Samedi Soir devoted its February 17-19 edition to a critical analysis of the electoral process and the results of the recent ballots.
At 5:00 p.m. on Friday, February 16, when the issue was ready for distribution, the editor of the journal was called, along with other journalists, to a press conference organized by the Ministers of the Interior, Justice and Information. It emerged from this meeting that the government was asking journalists “to refrain from all criticism of past electoral activities.” The representative of Le Petit Samedi Soir called the Ministers’ attention to the fact that the journal “was already printed, and contained a criticism of the legislative elections.” He was told “to bear in mind what had just been said.”
As a result of this official intervention, the editors of Le Petit Samedi Soir decided to burn the entire issue. The government of Haiti stresses that it reimbursed the journal for all loses incurred in connection with the abandoned issue.
4. The Special Commission would like to emphasize that its activities during the period it spent in Haiti were reported in full in the Haitian press, which also published a series of articles on human rights in general immediately prior thereto. The press releases issued by the Special Commission were printed in full.
5. In connection with the dissemination of ideas, the Special Commission was impressed by an informative booklet published in Creole by the Catholic Church on many aspects of human rights. This document not only informs about the different human rights but also tells what can be done if violations occur.
The members of the Special Commission were assured that these informational documents were being freely distributed by the Catholic Church without any government interference.
6. The Minister of Education told the members of the Special Commission that there was a program for the teaching of human rights in school. However, subsequent interviews did not turn up any cases where the program had been implemented. With regard to the particular question of human rights education, it should be indicated that the Catholic Church conducts a number of programs for this purpose, and has distributed a text in Creole of the American Declaration on Human Rights, several copies of which were forwarded to the Special Commission.
7. With regard to the press after our visit, it would be very useful to quote in full the section on Haiti in the Report by the Commission on Freedom of the Press and Information presented to the XIV General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association in October 1978:
Some unusual things have happened in Haiti since the inter-American Press Association’s mission to that country in February 1978.
1. Three newspapers, Le Matin, Panorama and Le Nouvelliste, published the complete text of the extensive report on freedom of the press in Haiti. A number of radio stations read the report in its entirety. Since certain sections of the report criticized the government, its publication is unprecedented in the recent history of Haiti.
2. Two men were brought to trial, found guilty and sentenced to four months in prison for the attack on Rev. Nerée, editor of a weekly that was often critical of the government.
3. About thirty Haitian journalists signed an appeal that the Haitian Press Association, this far a tool of the government, be reorganized.
4. For the first time, Haitian publications and radio programs began to publish information and commentaries on abuses by the police and on other violations of human rights. Last September, Mr. Dieudonné Fardin, editor of the weekly Le Petit Soir even published a forceful editorial criticizing the Haitian Legislature for having passed a law giving excessive powers to the President. The weekly maintained that this law was unconstitutional.
These and other facts, in the context of the realities of Haiti are obvious evidence that the Inter-American Press Association (SIP) can play a constructive and important role in obtaining freedom of the press in Haiti. However, the positive situation has changed significantly over the last few weeks, as a SIP mission has realized.
1. The radio stations are silent: progressive journalists in the radio stations are imposing their own censure. They are receiving threats, some say from the government, others from the “economic powers.” Journalists are being accused of provoking strikes. A government service put out a declaration reporting that severe measures would be taken against any individual fomenting unrest amongst the workers. Following these measures, the radio stations decided to remain silent, not only about labor questions, but about all issues that might be controversial.
2. Direct censorship: on Tuesday October 4, the director of a major industrial firm called a press conference attended by 25 journalists and by representatives of a number of embassies, including the French and United States embassies. This unusual interest was due to the fact that the firm, HAMASCO, S.A., is owned by the Duvalier family, and has been the subject of a serious family quarrel. In the afternoon, the Minister of Information personally telephoned the journalists who had been at the press conference, and forbade them to publish a single word. No one did.
3. Persecution: Jean Dominique is the leading radio commentator insisting on greater freedom of the press. Some time ago, in the government newspaper, he was accused of being “a liar.” Members of the armed forces telephoned him to tell him that he should stop publishing information about strikes. The owners of his station asked for an indemnity of $20,000; their lawyer’s main argument was that Dominique had made their radio station into a movement “of political opposition” to the government. If he loses the case, it is probable that Dominique will lose his station. Since he was denounced in the government newspaper, Dominique has maintained absolute silence.
4. Franz Joseph, the most well-known neurologist in Haiti, was exiled about two weeks ago. He was accused of being an agitator. Nothing has been published about Joseph’s exile. Journalists admit that they are afraid to write anything.
With the exception of Mr. Charlier, a journalist who form part of the government, all the people the last SIP mission met stated that there has been no progress in Haiti as regards freedom of the press since its last visit. Some even say that the situation has become worse.
Last August, the Organization of American States sent a Human Rights Commission to Haiti. The independent radio stations were inundated with people, many of whom came from rural areas in the interior of the country, asking to be allowed to air their complaints against the police and the armed forces on the radio. At least one station, Radio Haiti Inter, did so. And Le Petit Samedi Soir published articles and editorials on human rights.
It seems that “hawks” within the government reacted sharply to the OAS visit. The energetic measures against the press started after the Commission left the country.
These journalists need our help.
8. The Gourgue case (Case Nº 4670)
On Friday evening, November 9, 1979, the Chairman of the Haitian League for Human Rights, Professor Gérard Gourgue, was scheduled to speak at the Pères Salesiens building in Port-au-Prince on the “Political Atmosphere and Human Rights.” As Prof. Gourgue began his address after being introduced by a fellow officer of the League, the audience for the most part students, but also invited guests from the diplomatic community broke into confusion, as a result of which many persons, including Mr. Gourgue and his family, were hospitalized due to injuries caused by blows received, flying objects, and even gunshots.
It is claimed that 200 persons in an estimated crowd of between 1,000 and 6,000 persons had been placed in the audience by the government to create the disturbance. It is also alleged that the police in attendance did nothing to quell the outbreak or to protect those in attendance from assault. In attempting to help the victims, the Salesian Fathers were “brutally handled.”
This information was forwarded to the government of Haiti in a cable of November 13, 1979, followed by additional data two weeks later. By a note of November 21, received at the Secretariat on December 3, 1979, the government stated that “downright abuse had been leveled at the government, which unfortunately overheated the atmosphere.” In the government’s opinion, the scuffle was caused by a clash that pitted supporters and opponents of the speaker against each other, but the police intervened rapidly and re-established order.
The disruption of this meeting on human rights, attended by several prominent members of the Haitian League for Human Rights, raises serious doubts about the possibility of holding assemblies to discuss this subject, and also causes concern about the continued effective operation of programs of organizations dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights.
B. FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND WORSHIP
The Constitution guarantees the Haitian people freedom of religion in the following terms: “All religions and faiths shall be equally recognized and free. Every one may profess his religion and practice his faith, provided he does not disturb law and order. No one may be compelled to belong to a religious organization or to follow a religious teaching contrary to his convictions.” (Article 27).
During their visit, the members of the Special Commission met with representatives of a number of religious groups, and have no reason to believe that the rights set forth in Article 27 are impeded by government action.
1 American Convention on Human Rights
Article 12 – Freedom of Conscience and Religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and of religion. This right includes freedom to maintain or to change one's religion or beliefs, and freedom to profess or disseminate one's religion or beliefs, either individually or together with others, in public or in private.
2. No one shall be subject to restrictions that might impair his freedom to maintain or to change his religion or beliefs.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion and beliefs may be subject only to the limitations prescribed by law that are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights or freedoms of others.
4. Parents or guardians, as the case may be, have the right to provide for the religious and moral education of their children or wards that is in accord with their own convictions.
Article 13 – Freedom of Thought and Expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice.
2. The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure:
a. respect for the rights or reputations of others; or
b. the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.
3. The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.
4 Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainments may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence.
5. Any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitute incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar action against any person or group of persons on any grounds including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.
2 A communication received by the Commission declares as follows:
Promulgation of such a law seeks to make every patriot, every democrat, every non-supported of Duvalier into a communist agent, in an effort to discourage all attempts to contest or oppose the Duvalier regime. This law authorizes abusive interpretations of citizens’ actions, and justifies the worst kinds of repressive measures. It even allows citizens’ intentions to be pre-judged… The iniquitous character of this law become all the more evident:
- since there is no communist organization or party in official existence in the country;
- since the criteria whereby a citizen can be accused of communism have never been defined;
- no communists have ever been brought to trial;
- since assassinations have been committed, in the name of this law coveted goods have been appropriated, competitors have been eliminated, witnesses have disappeared, and power based on terror has been imposed;
since an individual, even a communist, is not a citizen without rights.
3 Le Moniteur, 11 August 1958.
4 Le Moniteur, June 19, 1950.
5 Le Moniteur, August 27, 1957.
6 The two decrees stipulate that damages and libel committed by the broadcast or print media against civilian or military authorities are not considered as political crimes (Articles 16 and 1 respectively). Any violations of the Decree of August 26, 1957 entail, as a matter of course, as a supplementary penalty, the closing of the broadcasting station that aired the damages or libel (Article 4). A decree of October 12, 1977 (Le Moniteur, December 21, 1977) prohibits ham-radio operators from transmitting or receiving messages of political or religious nature, or from transmitting news or making allusions against the authorities or friendly states (Article 102). This same decree also stipulates that those responsible for commercial stations must “check programs to prevent information, even if correct, from causing damage, or alarming the population by their form, presentation or timing” (Article 51).
7 See the Jean Dominique affair below.
8 See the Aedipe affair (November 1977) below.
9 See Régard affair (November 1977) below.
10 See the Dieudonné Fardin affair, below.
11 See the Luc Nerée affair (December 1977) below.
12 See the Ezéchiel Abélard affair (November 1975) below.
13 See the Gasner Raymond affair (June 1976) below.
14 See the cases mentioned in previous chapters.
15 Le Petit Samedi Soir, Nº 137, March 13-19, 1976, page 12.
16 Note from Mr. Edner Brutus, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the Commission, March 23, 1977 (POL/NAL: 64).
17 Le Petit Samedi Soir, Nº 242, May 27 through June 2, 1978, page 5.
18 Idem, p. 7.