WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE - Monferrier Dorval’s killing at home was a gut punch to his colleagues, students and admirers.
The head of the Port-au-Prince bar association was shot dead August 28 by unknown gunmen who stormed his home in the same upscale neighborhood where Haiti’s president lives. Two other prominent Haitians were killed that same day in crimes that underscore the country’s struggle to improve security.
"Attacks on civil society are attacks on Haiti’s democracy and we look to Haitian authorities to investigate this heinous crime and bring justice to this case," tweeted Michael G. Kozak, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, condemning the crime.
We stand with @BINUH_UN and @OAS_official in condemnation of the murder of Haitian lawyer Monferrier Dorval.— Julie Chung (@WHAAsstSecty) August 31, 2020
Attacks on civil society are attacks on Haiti’s democracy and we look to Haitian authorities to investigate this heinous crime and bring justice to this case. https://t.co/1G1Y5Hs6Pw
The killers have not been identified but Haitian President Jovenel Moise blamed "anti-change forces" in a statement emailed to VOA.
"This horrible attack against the lawyer, constitutional expert and professor of constitutional law — a thinker and eminent debater — is an attack against the Haitian intelligentsia," the statement said. "The President of the Republic energetically condemns this villainous crime orchestrated by anti-change forces who want to keep the country in a situation of degradation and chronic instability."
Two other Haitians killed that same day were also shot by unknown gunmen. Wealthy Haitian-Arab businessman Michel Saieh was shot and killed in broad daylight as his car traveled on a busy thoroughfare connecting downtown Port-au-Prince with upscale neighborhoods in the mountains. Saieh, whose wife and driver were injured in the attack, owned a store called Piyay Market.
Radio-Television Caraibes journalist Frantz Adrien Bony was also shot and killed in the middle class Petionville neighborhood after attending a party hosted by the station’s owner.
Haiti's National Police (PNH) say the killings are under investigation. It is unclear if they are related.
Dorval’s last hours
In Haiti’s legal circles, Dorval had a reputation for being a brilliant constitutional expert and devoted professor who spent 27 years teaching law at the state university. He was described by friends, colleagues and his students as a principled, humble, independent thinker.
Hours before he was killed, Dorval, 64, had a phone interview with popular Port-au-Prince radio station Magik 9, where he spoke out about the constant crises plaguing the country, the lack of leadership and the "inapplicable" constitution, which he said must be gutted. The law professor criticized the country's lawmakers, opposition leaders, prime minister and even the president himself for the state of Haiti’s government.
"The government is dysfunctional and that is why we are suffering. We must change the government and we must do this via the constitution," Dorval said. His outside-the-box plan, laid out during the show, included seeking experts in history, geography and demographics and the nation's top legal minds to draft a new constitution. He suggested examining how South Africa had successfully approached the issue, as well as some Latin American countries.
"The objective should be to reorganize Haiti so we can regain [the national] pride that we lost long ago," he said. "We are constantly in crisis, relying on foreigners to tell us what to do. This country is not truly governed."
Circumstances of Dorval’s killing
Chief prosecutor and investigator Gabriel Ducarmel told VOA he arrived at the scene of the killing on the night of the crime with a judge, police and doctors. They found that Dorval had been shot three times in the chest. One bullet went through the body; two remained lodged in the chest. He said crime scene investigators recovered bullet casings.
Describing the location of the crime as "very dark," Ducarmel said there were no surveillance cameras at the home. The lawyer’s wallet and cellphone were missing, he said. The phone has since been recovered and is being examined, Ducarmel told VOA, describing the find as "hugely important."
“This is a revolting crime that offends the national consciousness,” Ducarmel told VOA. “We will do everything in our power to bring his killer to justice. Whoever is involved, be it near or far, we will find him.”
Minister of Justice and National Security Rockefeller Vincent echoed that sentiment as he sought to reassure the nation about his commitment to investigate the crime and find those responsible.
“No acts of terror will go unpunished," he said at an August 31 press conference. “I consider the murder of the head of the bar association to be an act of terrorism.”
Moise expressed full support for the investigation and asked law enforcement to expedite the process.
"The PNH has all the support of the government to investigate [the crime] and put the criminals who assassinated one of the beneficent spirits of the nation behind bars," Moise said in the prepared statement. "The police and judicial services must quickly move forward to arrest and bring to justice those responsible."
Moise announced three days of national mourning a day after the killing, ordering the nation’s flags to be flown at half staff and asking radio stations to play solemn music.
L’assassinat de Me Dorval attriste toute la République. Un homme de grande culture. Une grande perte pour le pays. J’adresse aux membres de l’Ordre des avocats de P-au-P et à ses proches, mes plus sincères condoléances. Ce crime, comme tant d’autres, ne restera pas impuni.— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) August 29, 2020
Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe also took to Twitter to announce a meeting with the president, during which he said "drastic measures" were discussed in light of the multiple recent killings.
Ce matin, le Président de la République a assisté à un #CSPN spécial dans le but de prendre des mesures drastiques, suite aux multiples assassinats crapuleux dans le pays, dont le dernier nous a ravi le pacifique bâtonnier du barreau de Port-au-Prince, Me Monferrier Dorval.— Joseph Jouthe (@JoutheJoseph) August 29, 2020
The Caribbean nation’s surge in violent crime has drawn attention from U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, who urged U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison to be vigilant in the face of what may be a rash of politically motivated killings.
"Use your considerable knowledge and experience in Haiti to prevent the country from descending into a downward spiral of chaos and violence," she wrote in May.
"We condemn the assassination of the president of the Bar of Port-au-Prince, Maître Monferrier Dorval, and we join the request of the Core Group for his murder to be clarified and those responsible to be brought to justice," tweeted Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States, referring to the U.N. group of ambassadors who coordinate with Moise to address major issues in the country.
Nous condamnons l'assassinat du président du Barreau de Port-au-Prince, Maître Monferrier Dorval, et nous nous joignons à la demande du Core Group pour que son meurtre soit clarifié et que les responsables soient traduits en justice. https://t.co/g0qDaRbFSe— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) August 30, 2020
Doubts about investigation
In an exclusive interview with VOA Creole, former Haitian Army Colonel Himler Rebu, who served under the Jean Claude Duvalier dictatorship and led a failed coup attempt in 1989, cast doubt on the prosecutor's claims about the crime. He also cast doubt on whether the investigation would lead to an arrest soon.
The upscale neighborhood where the shooting occurred has heavy surveillance because of the president’s home and likely would have information that could help investigators, he said.
"The person who committed this crime did it in a way to protect his own life, which means that he did some preplanning," said Rebu. "And where was the killing done? A few meters from the president's residence."
VOA requested comment from the president in response to allegations that his security team should have more information about a shooting that occurred so close to his home, but was referred to the emailed statement, which does not address this issue.
Legal community protests
On September 3, judges, lawyers and law students took to the streets of the capital and several other cities to decry the killing and demand justice. Law students have since staged two other protests in Port-au-Prince, which police dispersed with tear gas. On September 10, one protester was shot and killed.
“It’s time to say no to the rampant crime. It’s time to start caring about this violence," one of the professor’s students told VOA. "Today it’s him. Tomorrow it could be us.”
Reynold Georges, Moise's former legal adviser, told VOA he has discussed security risks the judiciary faces with the president but was told there were no plans to relocate to a more secure location.
“It’s obvious this act was planned, concocted," Georges said. “If we accept this crime, we cease being a nation."
Gervais Charles, the former head of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, told VOA the September 3 march was only the beginning, and that the judiciary has more events planned.
“Our motto is 'Justice for Dorval,' equal to the [South African] motto of 'Free Nelson Mandela,' " he said. "Nothing will move forward in terms of the judicial system until that happens.”