Haiti Selects Judge to Oversee Presidential Slaying Case

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This photo provided by Doctors Without Borders shows locals standing outside its emergency clinic in the Martissant neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2020. Officials said Monday, August 2, 2021, that Doctors Without Borders has closed the Martissant emergency clinic in Haiti's capital amid gang violence that has left more than 19,000 people homeless. (Guillaume Binet/Doctors Without Borders via AP)

By Evens Sanon and Danica Coto, Associated Press

A justice official told The Associated Press in early August that he has selected a judge to oversee the case of the slaying of President Jovenel Moïse amid concerns over death threats and demands for additional security. Mathieu Chanlatte will be in charge of proceedings involving the July 7 attack at Moïse’s private home, said Magistrate Bernard Saint-Vil, who is dean of the Court of First Instance in Port-au-Prince.

“The judge is very competent,” Saint-Vil said. Chanlatte could not be immediately reached for comment. The choice was praised by some people, including Haitian attorney Steevens Rosemond, who is not involved in the case. “I ask that the Haitian state guarantee the safety of this magistrate so that he can do his work in accordance with the standards,” Rosemond said.

In late July, Saint-Vil said he had requested extra security measures as he prepared to select a judge to oversee the case. Death threats are especially common in high-profile slayings in Haiti, and several court clerks probing Moïse’s death have already gone into hiding after being ordered to change some names and statements in their reports. Haitians reacted swiftly to the news on social media, with some saying they hope justice will be served.

“You have a great responsibility for the history of this country,” one man tweeted. “You have the responsibility to make justice triumph.” More than 40 people have been detained in the case, among them are 18 former Colombian soldiers and 20 Haitian police officers. Authorities are still looking for several suspects including an ex-senator, a judicial official and a Haitian Supreme Court judge.

Human rights activists, defense attorneys and Colombia’s government have said they are worried about those detained, given that they were recently transferred to an overcrowded prison whose conditions have been compared to torture. Haiti has long been criticized for lengthy pretrial detentions, with thousands of inmates languishing in prison for years before they even get a court hearing, let alone a trial.

In Colombia on August 2, more than 20 relatives of the ex-soldiers arrested in Haiti organized a protest to demand due process and attorneys for them. Julián Andrés Gómez, brother of the captured ex-military officer John Jairo Ramírez Gómez, said they need “strong evidence” to know if the Colombians are alive and out of danger. A request that Haiti’s government made to the United Nations for a special inquiry into the assassination is still pending.

“We’re taking a look at the letter, and that letter will be answered,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday. He noted the U.N. could help in the investigation through its existing mandate in Haiti, which includes four police investigative advisers. He said that an international inquiry would have to go through the U.N.’s legislative bodies.

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