Area: 27,750 sq. km
Population: 9,446,000
Languages: Creole, French
Head of state: René Préval

Are the killers of journalists finally going to be punished? Verdicts were announced in 2007 in the murders of Brignol Lindor and Jacques Roche. President Préval set up a commission in August to help the investigation of murders of journalists. Lawlessness diminished but gangsters shot dead a photographer in January.

The case of the stoning and hacking to death of Radio Echo 2000 journalist Brignol Lindor in December 2001 had seemed virtually closed and a trial looked impossible to organise, but four people accused of his murder went on trial from 10 to 12 December 2007 in the southern town of Petit-Goâve.

The killing became a symbol of the abuses of the 2001-04 rule of President Jean-Betrand Aristide and disgusted Haitians by its savagery and by the failure to punish those responsible. A decision by President René Préval, who returned to power in 2006, was probably responsible for this unexpected push for justice.

Only three of the 10 members of the pro-Aristide Domi Nan Bwa (Sleep in the Woods) militia charged in 2002 have been arrested since the Petit-Goâve court issued warrants in 2007. The fourth man who appeared in court had been held since 2005. Two of the defendants – Joubert Saint-Juste and Jean-Rémy Démosthène – were given life sentences. Simon Cétoute (who had been mistaken for his late son of the same name) was acquitted and Fritzner Doudoute (arrested in 2005) will be retried because of confusion over his name, though he was formally recognised in court by witnesses. The new trial could also involve Dumay Bony, former deputy mayor of Petit-Goâve suspected of inciting townspeople to attack Lindor during a press conference the day before the murder. Bony gave evidence at the December trial. Some of the six suspects still to be arrested have been spotted in Petit-Goâve and Port-au-Prince.

The other major killing of a journalist in recent times, of Jean Dominique, head of Radio Haïti Inter and a good friend of then-President Préval, who was shot dead in front of the station with gatekeeper Jean-Claude Louissaint in April 2000, remains unsolved. The case received a new setback when a suspect, businessman Robert Lecorps, was murdered on 4 April. But the arrest on 10 December of police commissioner Daniel Ulysse, who headed the judicial police at the time of the killing, could provide new evidence.

A photographer killed

Progress has been made in other cases, albeit slowly. Two gang leaders, Chéry Beaubrun and Alby Joseph, were sentenced to life imprisonment on 30 August for the murder of journalist Jacques Roche, cultural editor of the daily Le Matin and former opponent of Aristide. He was kidnapped in July 2005 and his body found four days later in the capital. Another suspect, Wensley Boshomme, a gangster who escaped from the central prison in 2005, was arrested in October.

The unusually speedy police, helped by the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH, in July and November arrested two members of the notorious Cannibal Army (an opposition militia under Aristide's rule) suspected of murdering Alix Joseph, manager and presenter of Radio-Télé Provinciale in the northwestern town of Gonaïves, on 16 May. A few days (22 May), François Latour, 60, a popular variety presenter on Caraïbes FM, was kidnapped and murdered in Port-au-Prince.

Kidnappings for ransom were fewer in 2007 but lawlessness and gang activity are still major obstacles to restoring the rule of law. A day after the announcement on 18 January of the arrest of about 40 gangsters in the capital, freelance photographer Jean-Rémy Badiau was shot dead at his home in Martissant, a Port-au-Prince suburb in the grip of rival armed gangs, Lamè Ti Machèt and Baz Gran Ravin. His family said he was suspected of handing over photos to the police.

A commission against impunity

Préval inaugurated a new special commission to help the investigation of murders of journalists (CIAPEAJ) on 10 August, in the presence of Jean Dominique's widow, Michèle Montas (now official spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon). Its chairman, Joseph Guyler C. Delva, correspondent in Haiti for several foreign media and programme chief at radio station Mélodie FM, had to flee the country between 9 and 25 November after getting threats, though for reasons apparently unconnected with his new job. The trial of the Lindor killers would probably not have been possible without the CIAPEAJ, which helped to find parts of the case-file that had been lost at the supreme court.


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