The Alleged Massacre at La Scierie: Interview with the UN's Thierry Fagart

Interview with Thierry Fagart on La Scierie

By Christian Heyne, Stuart Neatby and John Dimond-Gibson
Haiti Analysis, February 22nd, 2007

This interview conducted in March 2006 with Thierry Fagart, head of the UN Human Rights Commission in Haiti, deals with the "La Scierie" case. NCHR/RNDDH has claimed a massacre perpetrated with the direct assistance of Yvon Neptune shortly before the coup of 2004. Neptune was arrested, and was widely recognized as a political prisoner by human rights organizations - even, belatedly, Amnesty International. Neptune is still fighting the charges, although he has been released from custody.

Thierry Fagart: About Neptune, you know, it’s a very difficult case. He was arrested in June 2004 and for the alleged implication in the La Scierie massacre. The first thing I want to say is that I don’t like the word massacre. It’s not a legal term. You can say extrajudicial execution, arbitrary execution, but massacre, it’s a bit different…. And the problem is that, after two years of investigation, we’re still unclear of whether the victims were only on one side.

According to the official version, the victims of the massacre had been killed by Aristide’s party. But I don’t agree with this point of view. I think, and I am not the only one, because there are these independent experts, appointed by Kofi Annan for the human rights in Haiti, which was a publicly stated for him, it was just a fight between two different gangs, two different sides, you know, according to [our data]… You have on one side, Bale Wouze, which was a popular organization belonging to Lavalas and on the other side, Ramicose, which was an organization close to the opposition.

Christian Heyne: Ramicose?

Thierry Fagart: Yes

Christian Heyne: That was an armed group?

Thierry Fagart: In fact, they deny it, but in fact yes. Just three weeks before Aristide left, [the city of] Gonaives was already under the control of the liberation army. Their story is that at the very beginning of February, the liberation army took control of Gonaives and then immediately went to St Marc. St Marc is not far from Gonaives. You have Gonaives, St Marc, and [then] Port-au-Prince. So they went to St Marc, and took control of [it]. Which is not very difficult, because you have only five or six or seven, I don’t remember [how many], but less than ten police. So they fled and they said ‘we have occupied [Gonaives]’ But for the government, it was very important to avoid this kind of thing. It was the last [barrier] before Port-au-Prince. So it was really important to take control again. And… for me, it is probably clear that the police had been receiving help from Bale Wouze. Probably. But it definitely means that the fight between them was the decision of the government. I think that they were right because they were - I’m not a supporter of Lavalas, I want to make clear that I am not a supporter of Lavalas. But at the same time, it was clear that the legal government was the Aristide government, ok? So it was their responsibility to try to avoid…

Christian Heyne: A coup d’etat?

Thierry Fagart: It’s a type, yes, it’s a type. It’s more difficult but…So finally, if you make the review of the national and international press on the night of February and the days after, it is clear that the maximum account of the victims was 8 or 9 people killed, not 50 people. But immediately they said “the massacre of La Scierie” and that it was organized by the government.

The involvement, or the alleged involvement of Neptune was the following…: the day that the National Police re-occupied St Marc on the 7th of February, Neptune left from Port-au-Prince to St Marc in the only helicopter, the presidential helicopter, and went there just to see what happened. And he made a public statement. I don’t remember it exactly, but he said that the authority of state had been restored and then headed back to Port-au-Prince. On the date of the ‘massacre of La Scierie,’ the same helicopter - I’m not sure, but probably - left for St Marc with the Haitian Police officers, [and] had probably provided help to the police who were chasing [the rebels]…and some witnesses said that the shots from the helicopter were on the people as they were trying to flee. It’s possible, it’s possible.

But does it mean that Neptune was responsible? No no. He was the Prime Minister who left in the same helicopter but you know the story of the helicopter, it’s not evidence… The helicopter is not an actor.

The second thing is that, everybody knows that the helicopter was under the personal control of Aristide. And that means that Aristide was the only one to authorize the use of the helicopter. Okay. And it’s very interesting because in the final decision of the investigating judge, Aristide was being prosecuted, yes, but at the end the judge wrote that “non moulieu [sic]” which means that we do not have the evidence to send the file to the court. They had no evidence. At the same time, most the serious evidence against Neptune was the helicopter. But at the same time, they had NO, nothing against Aristide, so “non moulieu [sic].”

Christian Heyne: So there is no basis to hold him?

Thierry Fagart: …the second thing [is that] they have a record of the phone calls of Neptune between the 7th of February and the 15th of February, one week. And, yes, he called St Marc. He called some people, he called some local police officers, he called some militants from Bale Wouze, it’s clear. But basically that he has organized [a massacre]? No. No. Because it’s just a record of the lengths of the calls, the phone numbers of all of them. But it’s not a record of the talk. We have nothing.

So that’s the two, the two elements to prosecute him and to send the case to the criminal hearing. So for me, it is clear that they have never had any legal grounds to prosecute him. From the very beginning until today, all the proceedings against him were illegal, as clearly stated publicly… He’d been arrested with an arrest warrant. In a criminal procedure, a Haitian criminal procedure, an arrest warrant is for people who are fugitives, or when you don’t know exactly where they are. Which [was] not the case for Neptune. Everybody knew where he was, here in Haiti. But when you issue an arrest warrant as a judge, the police they give you the arrest warrant, and they say that sending you to the charge they said, they send you directly to the chamber…it means that you are not aware of what is the reason… The charge is [**INAUDIBLE**], but you don’t know exactly, you don’t know the crime.

It was illegal. The right way would have been to issue a modale de comparition [sic]. You are asked to come to my office. If you refuse to do it, you are modale d’amener [sic]. The model d’amener [sic] is, I send police to your house and bring you to my office.

Christian Heyne: Like a subpoena.

Thierry Fagart: Exactly, like a subpoena. And after, I have to notify you of the charges. You are allowed to answer, you have your lawyer. And then I would decide, at the end of the first hearing, whether I will keep you with [**INAUDIABLE**], or send you for pre-trial detention. To avoid this kind of thing, they decided to issue an arrest warrant. And the reason was that it stands for one year, more than one year without charge.

Stuart Neatby: Without charge?

Thierry Fagart: And without any contact with an investigating judge.

Stuart Neatby: There are human rights groups that still claim that there are reasons to keep Neptune in jail, the best known of which is the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, which has changed its name.

Thierry Fagart: Now it’s RNDDH, le Reseau National du Defense du Droits Humaines.

Stuart Neatby: So in their analysis and their investigation of this event, how did that really differ from what your office has really found?

Thierry Fagart: I want to say one thing. They are the only one organization who talked about a massacre. And the guy in charge of the organization, Pierre Esperance, publicly stated that the massacre had produced more than 15 victims. And when asked to provide information, the names of the victims, he said ‘we didn’t find them because the pigs [had eaten the bodies]. Well, okay. They have never issued a formal report on the La Scierie massacre. They have issued public statements, but never a report.

So, I’m not comfortable with this kind of behaviour for this case. I don’t want to say that they are not a real human rights NGO, but I think that for this particular case, they have failed. It’s a real failure. It’s a lack of responsibility.

Christian Heyne: Isn’t it very unusual not to have a report on such a case?

Thierry Fagart: Generally, they produce reports. In this case, in this particular case, because of their involvement in the case, their responsibility was to issue a report... part of our mandate is to help the NGOs and work with them. I’m also the representative of the high commissioner on human rights to Haiti.

Christian Heyne: [**INAUDIBLE**]

Thierry Fagart: It’s okay to quote me on that.

I’d say in this particular case, they were effectively… I remember, it was my third stay in Haiti, sort of long stay in Haiti. So I remember the previous period. And I remember that NCHR was targeted by the Aristide gangs, clearly. Esperance had been shot in 1999 first. He was threatened after.

Jon Dimond-Gibson: He was wounded?

Thierry Fagart: He was wounded. Seriously.

So I would say I can understand that in such situation, you have all kind of revenge to take. As a human being, you can understand that. But they are not only human beings, they are human rights activists. And the problem in this country with this, I’m sure, is that most human rights NGO’s are completely involved in politics. For me it is clear that when you are a human rights activist, you are involved in politics. You are fighting the state. But you are fighting any state, any government in the same way. You have to treat in the same way, a different government. You don’t have your friend as a government, so you don’t say a thing…

It is a problem of RNDDH, former NCHR. It is a problem so they have decided that Aristide was gone. Neptune was number 2. Neptune decided to stay. Neptune decided to help go through the transition. He didn’t hide, he stayed. He had been proposed to come to the United States, to Canada, or to France. He denied it. He said ‘it is my responsibility as a Haitian, as a politician, I have nothing to hide.’

Stuart Neatby: Can I just ask what methods of investigation were used to look at the

La Scierie, St Marc incident?

Thierry Fagart: Different ways. We interviewed different witnesses, of course. We didn’t have access to the [Haitian prosecutor’s] file during the investigation because the information was [kept] secret. We didn’t have the opportunity to look at the file. You know that Neptune, he has no lawyer now… He is still on a hunger strike.

Stuart Neatby: He’s still on a hunger strike?

Thierry Fagart: He is drinking water, of course, with some medicine. But he doesn’t eat. That may be the reason he is still alive, you know, because it has been more than one year.