The Haitian authorities must protect the families of murdered journalist Diego Charles and activist Antoinette Duclaire who are being subjected to death threats and intimidation, Amnesty International said today, as it called for progress in the investigation into their killings.
Amidst the chaos surrounding the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, the rampant violent crime and the human rights crisis afflicting the country, journalists and human rights defenders have increasingly come under attack.
The grieving families of Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclaire must be protected as they continue to seek justiceErika Guevara-Rosas
Family members and close confidants of Charles and Duclaire told Amnesty International that both had received threats prior to their murder, and that they were also now facing intimidation for speaking to the authorities.
“The grieving families of Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclaire must be protected as they continue to seek justice, and witnesses must be free to speak to police without intimidation,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director.
“The Haitian authorities must thoroughly investigate the cold-blooded killings of Charles and Duclaire, who were likely targeted for their human rights work and their pursuit of truth.
“The authorities must do more to ensure the safety of journalists, activists and human rights defenders who remain at extreme risk simply for doing their job and exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
Diego Charles was a reporter for Radio Vision 2000 and website Larepiblik Magazine, which he co-founded with Antoinette Duclaire. Antoinette Duclaire (known to family and friends as ‘Netty’) was a political and human rights activist, vocal government critic, and member of the opposition political movement Matris Liberasyon. Both had received death threats prior to their murder.
Both bodies have now undergone autopsies, according to family members. However, the autopsy and police reports have reportedly not yet been concluded or handed to judicial officials.
Intimidation of families and witnesses
Amnesty International reviewed a report by a judicial police officer which revealed Diego Charles was shot twice, while Antoinette Duclaire was shot seven times, including in her head. Both were 33 years old.
They were killed by unidentified armed assailants on motorbikes, outside Charles’ house in the Christ-Roi neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince. Duclaire was shot sitting in her car, while Charles was shot at the entrance of his house after leaving the car.
One witness told Amnesty International they overheard a brief exchange between the victims and the assailants, including Duclaire shouting: “No, don’t shoot at us!”
On 30 June, unknown attackers opened fire into the air outside Charles’ house, the scene of the crime, as well as outside Duclaire’s house, where family and friends were grieving. Family members and neighbourhood residents said the gunfire was a clear act of intimidation, intended to prevent witnesses from speaking about the attack.
Amnesty International interviewed nine people, including family members and colleagues of both victims, as well as two members of civil society and one witness to the killings. Many remain worried for their safety, believing they are at risk of reprisal attacks
Frede Duclaire, Antoinette’s brother, told Amnesty International that the family had been the subject of multiple threats and acts of intimidation in recent months, including a shootout that targeted the family home on 23 February, and that Antoinette had been regularly changing where she slept since December 2020. He said: “Even after the killing of Netty, they keep calling us, they tell us what we saw is nothing, that ‘the worst is yet to come’.”
He said he has no faith in the police to investigate, and said of the authorities: “I don’t trust them, and I really don’t trust anything they say. They don’t have the willingness to do anything. The justice system that we have in Haiti is very weak, and they don’t have the resources to continue the follow up.”
Marie Samuelle Charles, Diego’s sister, said: “I would like [for authorities]…to find out what happened. My brother was just 33 years old. He tried to do everything society expected of him. He worked hard on himself. I want to know what happened to him? Why did they kill him?”
Attacks on journalists and lack of faith in authorities
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in attacks on journalists and human rights defenders in Haiti. However, those working in the country said they had little faith in the authorities to properly conclude any investigations into previous attacks or murders.
Jacques Desrosiers, Secretary-General of the Association of Haitian Journalists, said: “The police and justice system say they opened an investigation, and until now there is no end result from these investigations. Police always put out statements saying the investigation is in process, is underway, that they will continue with it, they arrest one or two people, but it is nothing, it is just talk.”
“I want Haitian authorities to put an end to the impunity towards the crimes against journalists. As long as the police and the justice system don’t conclude their investigations and present their findings, the impunity will continue. As long as there is no justice for journalists who were killed, the situation will stay the same, impunity will reign.”
Haiti has been mired in political instability in recent years, including protests, widespread violence, and protracted political and constitution crises, as well as the recent assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, which took place a week after Charles and Duclaire’s murders.
Human rights defenders and journalists are particularly at risk. The Haitian government has been accused of complicity in large-scale attacks carried out by gangs targeting impoverished neighbourhoods carried out between 2018 and 2020. In a report earlier this year, the UN highlighted the increase in human rights violations.
Haiti has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to life among other key rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights to which it is a party. It also has an obligation to hold thorough, independent and impartial investigations into these killings, and ensure alleged perpetrators are brought to justice, in fair trials.
Amnesty International has launched an Urgent Action demanding that authorities hold an immediate, independent, and impartial investigation to find and prosecute those responsible for Diego and Antoinette’s killings, and for acts of intimidation against them, their families, and witnesses. For more information, click here.