March 16, 2011 - Prominent lawyers and law professors today wrote to Cheryl Mills, U.S. Department of State Chief of Staff, criticizing United States Government interference with former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s constitutional and human right to return from forced exile to Haiti. President Aristide is expected to leave South Africa for Haiti on Thursday, March 17. On Monday, Department of State spokesperson Mark Toner urged the South African government to prevent the plane’s departure before Haiti’s upcoming elections.
The letter to Chief of Staff Mills explains that U.S. Government’s interference in President Aristide’s return violates his rights guaranteed by Haiti’s Constitution and international law.
Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Professor at Loyola New Orleans Law School stated that “the United States trying to control when any Haitian citizen—especially a former President—can enter Haiti is outrageous. It violates a stack of binding international human rights treaties. I felt compelled to speak out to defend both President Aristide’s human rights and the American tradition of rule of law that I teach in my classroom.”
The letter notes that Mr. Toner’s expressed justification for restricting President Aristide’s right to return home—a fear that he might “impact” elections scheduled for Sunday, March 20, is an additional violation of President Aristide’s rights to free expression and freedom to take part in the conduct of public affairs. The letter finds such statements “especially disturbing” coming from a State Department that has noted human rights experts on its staff.
Brian Concannon Jr., Director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, added that “while Secretary Clinton has been promoting democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East, the State Department has been undermining it in Haiti. It is time for the U.S. Government to practice in Haiti what it preaches elsewhere.”
Over 100 lawyers, professors, students and other individuals have signed the letter, including law professors from Harvard University, New York University, University of San Francisco and Loyola University Law Schools, and lawyers from prominent human rights and civil rights organizations throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.
To read the letter online click here.
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