Haitians Hope Assassination Case Will Help Rebuild The Country's Justice System
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In Haiti, the killing of President Jovenel Moise shocked the nation. But according to security officials, criminal gangs took over large swaths of the capital during Moise's time in office. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Port-au-Prince.
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JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Seventy-three-year-old Marie Rene Bonet spent most of her life in the Martissant neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. She raised her children there. But five weeks ago, the situation became intolerable.
MARIE RENE BONET: (Through interpreter) I was at my daughter's house, and we heard shots. And we rush out to a church to pray. Then we were forced to leave the shrine. We went to take refuge with friends, but when we arrive, I found my friends packing up to leave their house.
BEAUBIEN: Gang members were moving street by street through the neighborhood of cinderblock and sheet-metal homes, looting, shooting, taking whatever they wanted. Police had abandoned the local barracks months earlier. That was the last night Bonet spent at her own house. Tears well up in her eyes when she describes how she fled the next morning with six members of her family, taking only what they could carry.
BONET: (Through interpreter) From the beginning, people have been dying. People have been shot. Nobody says, no, this can't continue. And now the situation is getting worse.
BEAUBIEN: Her son, Junior Milien, says a friend from church let the seven of them move in to one of his kid's bedrooms in a neighborhood on the other side of Port-au-Prince from Martissant.
JUNIOR MILIEN: We just sleep on the floor. We put some sheets, then we sleep on the floor.
BEAUBIEN: Sheets on a rough concrete floor. He says he wanted to go back to Martissant to try to get more of their belongings.
MILIEN: So when we tried to get back, there was a lot of shooting, and they say they shoot on people. If you come in your house to take your thing, they will shoot on you.
BEAUBIEN: One of his former neighbors drove past his mother's house and told him that the home had been ransacked.
MILIEN: We learned recently that they took everything.
BEAUBIEN: Bonet says they've become refugees in their own city. And this family is not alone. The U.N. says that nearly 15,000 people have been forced from their homes in Port-au-Prince just over the last six weeks. Critics of President Moise say through indifference and some charged malice, he allowed gangs to take over the most destitute areas of the capital. Doctors Without Borders shut down its clinic in Martissant after it was attacked on June 26. The previous month, one of their staff was robbed and killed. And in February, according to the country director, Julien Bartoletti, gun battles forced the medical charity to move its burn unit out of a clinic near Cite Soleil.
JULIEN BARTOLETTI: Because now in Drouillard, we are close to a front line. It's got - it's like a war context in some neighborhoods. You have some front lines. But us - we can't have patients in a burnt ward with this high level of insecurity.
BEAUBIEN: Bartoletti says the rising levels of violence is the biggest challenge to Doctors Without Borders operations in Haiti right now. Attorney Samuel Madistin agrees the instability is no accident. He says President Moise gave the gangs carte blanche to do just about whatever they want.
SAMUEL MADISTIN: Those gangs have impunity - official impunity. No trial for any gang since three years.
BEAUBIEN: Madistin is a criminal defense attorney. But after Moise took office, the number of trials started to dry up. Just as Moise let parliament dissolve and never held elections to reinstate it, the slain president allowed the judicial system to collapse. Courts shut down as judges weren't appointed to fill empty seats. Prosecutors stopped filing charges. Suspects languished in jail. Madistin says he hasn't had a single case go to trial since 2018.
MADISTIN: And every day you have people killed. You have people rape every day - kidnap - every day. And they do nothing to stop this bad situation - nothing.
BEAUBIEN: Madistin openly describes himself as an opponent of Jovenel Moise. As a matter of principle, however, he wants justice for the former president, and he's hoping that the case against the killers of President Moise will be the first step in rebuilding Haiti's justice system.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-Au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.