Haiti: Persecution and death threats to camp activist & human rights lawyer
Following the death in police custody of camp resident, Civil Meris on April 15th 2013, Jean-Louis Elijah [Elie] Joseph and Esther Pierre of Camp Acra and Adoquin in Delmas 33, along with the camps lawyer, Patrice Florvilus of Defenders of the Oppressed are now living under threat of arrest and believe their lives are in danger. It seems pertinent to now ask the question: When President Martelly tells us Haiti is open for business, does he mean the business of commerce or is he referring to the business of bullying and repression from para military police many of whom are drawn from the ranks of the old Haitian army, well known for their violence towards civilians.
Within 24 hours of the January 12th earthquake, people seeking refuge began to arrive on the land that is now home to 32,000 people [52% are women], known as Camps Acra and Adoquin. For the first three months there were no tents. People made shelters from what they could find on the streets, pieces of wood, plastic, zinc. There was no water, no sanitary facilities and though food was provided by Oxfam there were just too many people so eating was irregular. For women and children the camp was a dangerous space with people stealing, fights, beatings and rapes.
After living like this for three months it became clear to many of the residents that they needed to organize themselves so they could make representations to NGOS for tents, water, sanitation as well as arrange security patrols particularly at night. The camp along with other camps across Port-au-Prince, is now represented through the Chanjem Leson movement Two of the camps founders and committee members are Elie Joseph and Esther Pierre.
On April 13th the camp residents received a visit from Reynold Georges who claimed to be the owner of the land and of note is also the lawyer for Jean-Claude Duvalier. He threatened to burn and bulldoze the camp if they did not leave the camp. The following Monday a section of the camp was set on fire by two motorcyclists, possibly in the hope of keeping Reynold Georges promise to destroy the whole camp. Some of the residents went to report the fire to the Commissariat at Delmas 33 which is next door to the camp but were told there was no petrol for police vehicles and there was nothing they could do. More and more people began to gather and proceeded to block the road outside the Commissariat to protest against the fire and the police’s refusal to help. The police arrested two camp residents, Meril Civil and Darlin Lexima who was released after 24 hours. Lexima reported to the camp lawyers that he was beaten and that he believed Civil was also beaten. According to the police, Civil was taken to the hospital but died. However, Lexima believes he was killed in the police station and was already dead when he arrived at the hospital.
The families of Lexima and Civil have taken advice from a number of people including Elie Joseph, and the camps lawyer Patrice Florvilus. They have made representations to the Inspector General of the Haitian National Police including the names of the six Delta officers [a special armed unit attached to many of the police stations] attached to Delmas 33 Commissariat. In addition Esther Pierre went to the hospital to view the body of Meril Civil and took the photos showing he was beaten.
It is because of these actions that the three activists – Jean-Louis Elijah [Elie] Joseph, Esther Pierre and human rights lawyer, Patrice Florvilus are now in hiding and in fear for their lives. Elie is well known to the Commissariat Delta Force as he was arrested in August following floods brought about by Hurricane Sandy. The camp residents were protesting about the flooding in the camp, the lack of water and the many tents which were destroyed. Elie spent three days in police custody during which time he was severely beaten. He was released after the court threw out the case for lack of evidence. He believes the police and particularly the Delta force have a vendetta against him. Plain clothes police are walking around the camp asking people if they have seen Elie and Esther. Residents are fearful and rightly so. Only a few months ago in February, Camp Acra 2 in nearby Petion-Ville was set on fire and ransacked by security forces leaving thousands once again homeless. Camp Acra and Adoquin residents now live day by day wondering if and when this will happen to them.
The Camps are part of the Chanjem Leson movement set up after the earthquake to campaign for better conditions in the camp and ultimately for housing for all the residents. I asked Elie and Esther what they would like people to know and to do..
Esther: We are not asking the government to give us houses as a charity. We want to pay for our houses over 25 or 30 years. We have the land which has been given to us but we need $10,000 to pay for the papers and either the government or NGOs to build the houses for us on credit. This is our struggle. We do not want to stay on this land in this camp so there is no need for this man or anyone to come and threaten us. We will leave when we are given homes. This is our right under the Haitian constitution. The people in the camp are nervous and afraid as we do not know what will happen next. You remember how they destroyed the camp Acra 2 at Petion-Ville?
Elie: We would like all militants from across the world to come together in solidarity as right now we are all separated here and there. This is one solution to the problem we have in Haiti and in the world – we are not united. People should also know that in Haiti there is a history of persecution of activists and people who advocate for human rights. People get shot and disappear. One day I feel I will also get shot or disappear. These are the ways of Haiti under repression by the government.
In Haiti there are two problems : everyone wants to be a Chief and secondly the white man has too many interests in the country so if they don’t kill you for the power, they will kill you for the interest of the blan [foreigner]!
Personally I am not afraid because I grew up in Cite Soleil and everyone in Cite Soleil is an activist from when they are born. I have been in exile after the first coup against President Aristide. I lived in the Dominican Republic which is where I met the human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre Antoine who disappeared in 2007. I have been arrested by the police when I was living in Cite Soleil. These are not new to us in Haiti but we are told this government is a democratic government so this is how democracy is in Haiti.