An Urgent Situation in Haiti — Please Spread the Word
October 13, 2004
I just received an urgent plea for help from my longtime friend Tina Redse who, among other things, is a volunteer with the What If? Foundation, a wonderful group based in Berkeley, California with operations in Haiti that feed poor children.
On Wednesday, October 13 Father Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest who works with the What If? Foundation, was beaten and kidnapped by members of the Haitian military. He is currently being held on trumped up charges and there are fears his life may be in profound danger.
Tina visited Father Jean-Juste in Haiti last year.
Here is an excerpt from Tina’s email:
“There is an urgent situation in Haiti which needs our attention.
A while ago I was honored to travel to Haiti with Margaret Trost, a Berkeley resident and founder of the What If? Foundation which provides food and education to impoverished children in Haiti.
We visited Father Jean-Juste, the Feed My Lambs food program visionary and coordinator. For decades this creative, spirited priest has advocated on behalf of and supported the poor. My heart was filled spending time with the courageous, open-hearted residents of this community. The Feed My Lambs food program in Haiti has been an amazing labor of love and fellowship among people who have so little yet work so hard to share what they have with each other. Mostly volunteer, here and in Haiti, almost all contributions have gone directly into growing food and feeding hungry people.
Yesterday Father Jean-Juste was beaten, forcibly removed from the rectory following a meal for hundreds of children, and incarcerated. The food program will persist, but Father Jean-Juste’s disappearance is a frightening and tremendous loss, on many levels, to a group people who have already suffered so much — especially during the events and disasters of the past several months.
Time is critical as each day in prison poses risks to his health and safety. His life is endangered not only by outright violence but also by the contagious diseases which are rampant in the jails.
Below is Margaret’s update and some background information. At the very bottom under “What you can do” is contact information to call, fax, and/or email the UN and U.S. to ensure that Father Jean-Juste and the other political prisoners are released.
Please pass this on to any and all who may be able to help.
With love and gratitude,
From: Margaret Trost
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2004 17:08:20 -0700
To: What If? Foundation Update List 2
Subject: Urgent: Please Help Save Father Jean-Juste’s Life
Dear friends of the What If? Foundation,
This afternoon, our dear friend Father Jean-Juste was beaten and kidnapped from the rectory of St. Clare’s Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. As you know, he is the Coordinator of the What If? Foundation’s Feed My Lambs food program. As Father Jean-Juste was helping serve meals to the hundreds of children that had gathered to eat today’s meal, several trucks filled with hooded men carrying weapons surrounded the building. They waited for the food program to end and then stormed in, beat him and took him away. I know this because Father Jean-Juste was able to call a member of the Haitian community in Miami from his cell phone as the armed men surrounded and barricaded the rectory. As Father Jean-Juste was taken, an eyewitness used his cell phone to call the contact in Miami. She immediately called me.
I am so afraid for his safety and it breaks my heart as I write this. Father Jean-Juste has been advocating for the poorest of the poor in Haiti his whole life. He is truly one of the kindest, most loving, and courageous people I’ve ever met. He is a voice for the voiceless and has spoken out against the injustices inflicted against the poor in Haiti. Months ago, after the coup, as people who supported President Aristide were being sought out and murdered, we knew Father Jean-Juste’s life was in danger. We thought this might happen and now it has.
I do not know if he is alive. I do not know if he’s being tortured. I’ve called my Congressional representatives, the local newspaper and radio station, Amnesty International, my Catholic Diocese, and the UN office in Port-au-Prince.
Please help me save Father Jean-Juste’s life. Please pray for his safety. In addition to your prayers, please call your congress people (www.house.gov and www.senate.gov will give you their names and contact information), and make any phone calls, emails, or other communications to local newspapers, your Catholic Diocese and any other place you can think of. Let them know about Father Jean-Juste and the food program and what happened this afternoon. With enough people working on his behalf, I pray we can save him.
Margaret Trost, President
What If? Foundation
1563 Solano Ave., #192
Berkeley, CA 94707
Here is an update from Margaret on the situation 24 hours after the abduction of Father Jean-Juste…
From: Margaret Trost
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2004 09:15:54 -0700
To: What If? Foundation Update List
Subject: Update on Father Jean-Juste
October 14, 2004
Since my initial email, I’ve learned more details about what happened yesterday to Father Jean-Juste. The hooded, armed men who took him from our Feed My Lambs food program at St. Clare’s Church were working with Haitian police. They arrested him without a warrant for being “a threat to public order.” He has been accused of being associated with people who were planning to commit violence against the Haitian government later this week. This is absurd! I have known Father Jean-Juste and his community for five years. He devotes every waking hour to helping the poor. He was feeding hungry children as they dragged him away. Father Jean-Juste models his life after the life of Jesus. He does not support violence. But in the tradition of Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Romero of El Salvador, his non-violent advocacy on behalf of the poor and the oppressed is seen as a threat.
In an interview with him yesterday, he was reported as saying, “Everyone who knows me knows that I do not support violence. This is a desperate move on the government’s part to frighten people into silence who they believe do not support them. This is sad day for democracy in Haiti because without freedom of speech there can be no democracy. I will pray for them from my prison cell.”
Ironically, the last email I received from Father Jean-Juste was sent three hours before he was surrounded and taken from our food program. He sent me a Pax Christi Human Rights Report. (Pax Christi is a Catholic Peace Organization.) In the report it states, “Human rights conditions are worse in Haiti now then they have been in years. The (Pax Christi) delegation strongly believes that the rule of law is being disregarded in the exile, arrest, beatings, executions, and detention of the people who were democratically chosen by the people of Haiti to govern. People affiliated with the elected government and those concerned about human rights have been beaten and arrested and homes burned and run off to live in hiding. The Haitian constitution and international law are being openly violated.”
Father Jean-Juste is believed to be in the Petionville prison. There are also reports of arrests of two other priests, Rev. Francois and Rev. Sauvagere, as well as raids on three additional churches.
Please continue to pray for Father Jean-Juste, his safety and his release.
P.S. I’ve printed below a letter written by Congresswoman Maxine Waters to Secretary of State Colin Powell regarding Father Jean-Juste. I’ve also printed an excerpt of a report from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which gives background on Father Jean-Juste as well as suggestions on how to help.
Subject: Rep. Waters’ letter on Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste in Haiti
October 13, 2004
The Honorable Colin Powell
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street, NW, Room 7261
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Powell:
I write to urge you to take immediate action to protect the life of Father Gerard Jean-Juste, the pastor of Saint Claire Church in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as well as the lives of several other Haitian priests and parishioners, who are reportedly in imminent danger.
Earlier this afternoon, I received reports that Saint Claire Church was surrounded by heavily-armed, hooded men, while Father Jean-Juste was inside. My Legislative Assistant, Ms. Kathleen Sengstock, contacted the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and spoke with Mr. Doug Griffith, the Deputy Chief of Mission, to express my grave concerns for Father Jean-Juste’s safety. During a follow-up phone call, Mr. Griffith told Ms. Sengstock that he had informed both the Haitian National Police and the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) of the reports and that the Haitian National Police were sending a patrol to look into the situation.
Subsequent to the conversations with Mr. Griffith, I have been told that Father Jean-Juste was taken away by the hooded men, and I fear for his life. Moreover, I have been told that at least one other church in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince, Saint Yves Church, was surrounded by heavily-armed, hooded men in a similar manner. Two priests, Father Francois and Father Sauvageur, as well as several children, were inside this church, and I fear for their lives as well.
I implore you to urge MINUSTAH and the Interim Haitian Government to intervene immediately to save the lives of Father Gerard Jean-Juste and the priests and parishioners of Saint Claire and Saint Yves Churches. I would appreciate it if you would contact me as soon as possible to discuss these ominous developments, and I look forward to your prompt response.
Member of Congress
Haiti Human Rights Alert: Illegal Arrest of Catholic Priest, Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste
October 13, 2004
On Wednesday, October 13, 2004, Haitian police forcibly entered the Sainte Claire Catholic Church in Port-au-Prince and arrested the Pastor, Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, without a warrant, while he was feeding the hungry children of his parish. Fr. Jean-Juste is a prominent activist for peace, justice and the rights of immigrants in Haiti and the U.S. There are also reports of arrests of two other priests, Rev. Francois and Rev. Sauvagere, as well as raids on three additional churches.
The Sainte Claire Church is located in Petite Place Cazeau, a poor neighborhood of Delmas, a Port-au-Prince suburb. On Wednesdays, Fr. Jean-Juste runs a soup kitchen that gives many area residents, especially children, their only meal of the day. During the feeding program, heavily-armed men surrounded the church and announced their intention to arrest Fr. Jean-Juste. Some wore uniforms of the Haitian National Police (HNP), some wore no uniforms, and many wore masks. The police refused to produce a warrant, and when asked what the charge was, replied that the priest “was a threat to public order.” Later, interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue told journalists there was a warrant, but could not say what the charge was.
When Fr. Jean-Juste refused to leave his feeding program, the police raided the church and dragged him out of the rectory. Witnesses reported that the police punched the priest, and Fr. Jean-Juste reported an injury to his foot. He was transported to a police station holding cell, where he is now being held incommunicado.
Interim Prime Minister Latortue claimed he had intelligence that Fr. Jean-Juste associated with people who were planning to commit violence against the government later this week, and that the Ste. Claire raid was a pre-emptive strike.
The illegal arrest continues a month-long wave of systematic attacks against civil society institutions, including labor unions, radio stations, lawyers and members of Parliament, as well as lethal police raids in poor neighborhoods. It is particularly troubling that the persecution extended to Fr. Jean-Juste, one of Haiti’s most persistent and influential voices for peace over the last two decades. The arrest shows a brazenness and disregard of Haitian and International law not seen since the Duvalier dictatorships.
A. Fr. Jean-Juste
Fr. Jean-Juste speaks out forcefully against all forms of violence, from the pulpit and on his radio shows. He spoke out against the state-sponsored violence of the Duvalier regime, the de facto dictatorship (1991-1994) and the Haitian army. He also speaks out against violence by the victims of that violence and by supporters of Haiti’s Constitutional governments. When opposition politicians were attacked following the April 2000 funeral of assassinated journalist Jean-Dominique, Fr. Jean-Juste spent his entire two-hour radio show imploring everyone to return to their homes.
Fr. Jean-Juste has been highly effective at fighting political and economic violence through peaceful means. When he was forced into exile for criticizing the Duvalier dictatorship, Fr. Jean-Juste retaliated with a lawsuit, winning a judgment against Jean-Claude Duvalier in Miami Federal Court. In 1979, he co-founded the Haitian Refugee Center in Florida, which provided assistance to thousands of refugees from the Duvalier regime, and fought unjust immigration policies all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Haiti, Fr. Jean-Juste encouraged victims of the de facto dictatorship to organize and to force Haitian courts to deliver justice. On August 16 of this year, Haiti’s interim government held a re-trial in the case of slain pro-democracy activist Antoine Izmery. Although he knew the prosecution was not serious (the New York Times called it “Sham Justice in Haiti”), and feared arrest, Fr. Jean-Juste bravely appeared, the only summoned witness to do so.
What You Can Do
The best way for people outside of Haiti to stop the attacks against civil society is to pressure the U.S. Government and the United Nations to intervene to stop it. Please call, fax or email, asking the U.S. and the U.N. to stop the attacks, and ensure that Fr. Jean-Juste and all the other political prisoners are freed immediately.
UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT:
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley
Phone: 011-509-222-0200 or 011-509-222-0354
Fax: 011-509-223-9038 or 011-509-223-1641
With copies to:
STATE DEPARTMENT HAITI DESK: Desk Phone: (202) 736-4628, Fax: (202) 647-2901
Ladd Connell – Haiti Desk Officer connellLF@state.gov
BUREAU OF WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS
Roger Noriega, Phone: (202) 647-5780; E-mail: email@example.com
Special UN Envoy to Haiti: Mr. Juan Gabriel Valdes
UN Military Commander in Haiti: Lt. General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira
UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Phone: 011-509-244-9650 or 9660
With copies to: UN Secretary-General: Kofi Annan: Fax: (212) 963-4879
For more information, and updates on this situation, see www.ijdh.org, www.haitiaction.net.