The United Nations has been sitting on evidence that implicates a powerful Haitian senator in the assassination of a popular priest in 1994. The only known video testimony of an eyewitness to the brutal killing of Father Jean-Marie Vincent was recorded by a UN official in 2005 and has not seen the light of day since. HIP recently received a copy of the video in an anonymous package that included a note stating: “The UN has no interest in pursuing this case or revealing this evidence despite the statements of this eyewitness that Youri Latortue was the triggerman that shot and killed Father Jean-Marie Vincent on August 28, 1994.” The note concluded, “It is a travesty of justice that the UN has been withholding this testimony from the public. They are supposed to be impartial but Latortue has powerful friends in the U.S. Embassy who view him as an asset since his role following the ouster of Aristide in 2004.”
In the video testimony, the eyewitness is interrogated by a UN official and explains why she was falsely arrested in 2004 and shuttled from prison to prison until discovered by the same official. The witness also explains that she lived in the United States on and off for several years, which is why she preferred to provide the testimony in English.
The witness tells how the Haitian police were holding her for Latortue until he could figure how to “get rid of me.” When asked why she feared Latortue she responds “because the 28th of August 1994, I witnessed Youri Latortue murder the priest by the name of Jean-Marie Vincent.” She follows with a recounting of the incident and details of the murder. The Haiti Information Project (HIP) has released an excerpt from the video testimony where the image and voice have been digitally altered to protect the identity of the witness.
Youri Latortue is a blood relative and former security chief of the U.S.-installed Prime Minister Gérard Latortue who took control of Haiti in 2004 following the coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Elected in 2006, Senator Latortue has most recently been serving as the powerful head of the Haitian parliament’s Justice and Security Commission.
According to Haitian law, senators enjoy immunity from prosecution for crimes and are not required to testify unless a senator himself or herself waives their immunity, or the Senate votes to lift it. Latortue’s parliamentary immunity is due to expire with the swearing in of the next parliament following elections scheduled for Nov. 28 in Haiti.
Many Haitians suspected that Latortue ran for office in 2006 for the expressed purpose of claiming immunity from prosecution given previous allegations made against him of human right abuses following Aristide’s ouster. A Freedom House report on Haiti released May 3, 2010 stated “a number of law-makers elected in 2006 have reportedly been involved in criminal activities, and they sought parliament seats primarily to obtain immunity from prosecution.”
Father Jean-Marie Vincent was fatally shot at point-blank range in front of his rectory at Montfortain in the Port au Prince neighborhood of Christ-Roi on Aug. 28, 1994. At the time of Vincent’s assassination, then Lt. Youri Latortue was a leading member of the Anti-Gang Unit of the Haitian army. Witnesses at the time described two vehicles carrying members of the unit as those responsible for opening fire on Vincent’s vehicle.
A report released by a delegation of the Center for the Study of Human Rights in 2004 stated “a former high-ranking police official from the USGPN (palace security), Edouard Guerrière… claims that Youri Latortue participated in the 1994 murder of catholic priest Jean-Marie Vincent (as did eyewitnesses in 1995), and that he assisted in the 1993 murder of democracy activist Antoine Izméry. From 1991 to 1993, Latortue was an officer in FADH’s [Haitian army] Anti-Gang Unit, the army’s most notorious unit for human rights violations.”
The video testimony reportedly suppressed by the UN would represent the first time an actual eye-witness to Vincent’s assassination has stepped forward to identify Senator Youri Latortue as the man that pulled the trigger.
Audio Transcript of Witness to Youri Latortue’s Killing of Father Jean-Marie Vincent
[Names have been removed to protect the witness’s identity- HL]
Witness: Then, Richard (name removed) said, you know something, I’m gonna call a friend and they’re gonna come and see you because from the information I’ve got, they want to kill you.
But I saw Youri Latortue going back and forth on the staircase [at the police station] in Pétionville so that’s when I said…it clicked. I said oh my God. I’m being set up.
UN Official: So while you were in Pétionville, you saw Youri walking around?
Witness: Not walking around, going up and down the staircase from the Commissioner’s down to where I was. But he didn’t come towards me. When I saw him, that’s when things clicked. I said, okay, that’s it… I know why I am here.
UN Official: Now let me ask you about that. Why would Youri have something against you? Why would you want to be….
Witness: Because the 28th of August 1994, I witnessed Youri Latortue murder the priest by the name of Jean-Marie Vincent.
UN Official: Where did you see this?
Witness: In Christ Roi by Turgeau.
UN Official: And was this on the side of the road? A restaurant?
Witness: No. He was getting into the place where he lives. The priest was getting into the gate.
UN Official: What? He got out of vehicle to open to the gate?
Witness: No, they were opening the gate for him.
UN Official: Uh huh.
Witness: That’s when I saw a pickup… a double white pickup with a bunch of men in black. And uh…I saw Youri. The reason why I remember Youri…. I don’t remember the other ones. But the reason why I remember Youri [was] because he used to come to (name removed) house. And I saw him getting out of the car and shooting at the car. But at that time, I didn’t know he was a priest, the man they were shooting at. I didn’t know he was a priest. And I didn’t know the person who was in that car.
UN Official: Right.
Witness: It’s when I went back to my uncle’s house, and I was explaining what I witnessed. Then I found out when he said “you know (unintelligible) who they shot?” I said: “Who they shot?” He said, “Jean-Marie Vincent.” I said: “Who is Jean-Marie Vincent?” He said: “It’s a priest.”
Kevin Pina is a journalist with the Haiti Information Project (HIP).