Haitian Human Rights Lawyer Unbowed by Death Threats: NYU Global Justice Clinic Calls for UN Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Haiti

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

6:30 p.m. EST, 23 Oct. 2013

Contact: Margaret Satterthwaite, margaret.satterthwaite@nyu.edu / +1-212-998-6657 / +1-347-277-5035

HAITIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER UNBOWED BY DEATH THREATS

NYU Global Justice Clinic Calls for UN Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Haiti

(New York, October 23, 2013)—Days after the dramatic arrest of Haitian lawyer André Michel, the Global Justice Clinic of New York University School of Law called upon the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders to help put an end to the serious threats and harassment faced by human rights defenders in Haiti. The petition to the Special Rapporteur seeks protection for Attorney Patrice Florvilus, a prominent human rights defender and the Director of Défenseurs des Opprimés (Defenders of the Oppressed, DOP), a legal aid organization based in Port-au-Prince. Attorney Florvilus recently became the target of death threats, surveillance, and frivolous criminal charges. The arrest of Attorney André Michel on Tuesday and recent threats against journalists indicate the grave risks that Haitian human rights defenders face for their legitimate human rights work. In this critical time, the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law calls on the UN Special Rapporteur to take urgent protective action.

Attorney Florvilus began receiving threats after he became the legal representative of two residents of a displacement camp in Port-au-Prince who had been subject to police brutality. One resident was severely injured and the other was killed in police custody. “Those before you were strong. Now they’re all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you.” This message was one of several delivered to DOP staff members in an apparent effort to deter Attorney Florvilus from moving forward with the police brutality case. He was also warned by a source within the Haitian National Police of a plot to assassinate him. Since then, a police vehicle has followed him on multiple occasions, his staff has received threatening phone calls, and unknown personssome claiming to be police officershave approached his staff repeatedly to ask where he could be found.

In August 2013, Attorney Florvilus was summoned to court on unfounded criminal charges of arson and conspiracy. Despite efforts by his lawyers to persuade the public prosecutor to drop the charges, the prosecutor has not agreed to do so. Attorney Florvilus refused to be hauled into court to respond to spurious charges, but he remains concerned that he could be arrested at any time. Attorney André Michel also faced criminal charges and intimidation in the months leading up to his arrest on Tuesday. Similarly, prominent human rights lawyer Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, has repeatedly been the target of threats and harassment.

“The targeting of Patrice Florvilus and other attorneys demonstrates a troubling pattern of state obstruction of legitimate human rights work in Haiti,” said Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law. “The government’s use of state institutions such as law enforcement, and its failure to address judicial and extra-legal threats leave human rights defenders dangerously exposed. All sectors of the government, from the police to the courts, are responsible for safeguarding human rights.” The Global Justice Clinic urges the Special Rapporteur to seek specific commitments from the Government of Haiti to protect Patrice Florvilus. The Clinic also calls on the Special Rapporteur to conduct a visit to Haiti to investigate the perilous situation of human rights defenders, particularly attorneys and journalists, and recommend safeguards for their protection.

To learn more about the Global Justice Clinic’s work on human rights in Haiti, click here.

About the Global Justice Clinic

The Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law provides high quality, professional human rights lawyering services to individual clients and nongovernmental and intergovernmental human rights organizations, partnering with groups based in the United States and abroad.  Working as legal advisers, counsel, co-counsel, or advocacy partners, Clinic students work side-by-side with human rights activists from around the world.  The Clinic has worked on human rights issues in Haiti since its founding.