Human rights lawyer Mr Patrice Florvilus has been summoned to appear on 22 August 2013 before an investigating magistrate to answer charges of arson and conspiracy to commit a crime. The charges appear to be the result of Patrice Florvilus’ work as a human rights lawyer, in particular his legal representation of two residents of Camp ACRA in Delmas 33, Port au Prince, who have been victims of police brutality – one of whom died in police custody on 15 April 2013.
Patrice Florvilus is the Executive Director of Défense des Opprimées/Opprimés – DOP (Defenders of the Oppressed), an organisation which provides legal assistance, in particular to social movements and residents of displacement camps. As a human rights lawyer, he has assisted victims of the Duvalier dictatorship.
Originally, Patrice Florvilus was summoned to appear on 19 August. He decided not to attend upon advice from his lawyers. It was feared that the human rights defender could be arrested. Furthermore, the summons is irregular: according to the law regulating the legal profession, the magistrate should have referred the matter to the Bar Association. Patrice Florvilus’ lawyers did attend the meeting with the magistrate, who however issued a new summons for him to appear on 22 August.
Since taking up the case of the death in police custody of the Camp ACRA resident in April 2013, Patrice Florvilus and DOP staff have suffered police harassment, intimidation and threats. In May and August, people entering DOP premises, including some of its staff, have been stopped by unknown individuals and questioned about DOP and Patrice Florvilus. On one of these occasions, on 28 May, a DOP staff member was told to warn Patrice Florvilus not to return to the office. In the days prior to this incident, and following a press conference convened to bring attention to the Camp ACRA resident’s death, the human rights defender received information from trusted sources indicating that his life could be in serious danger. Patrice Florvilus was also followed on several occasions by a police vehicle, which was also seen stationed outside his office.
Front Line Defenders considers the summons against Patrice Florvilus to constitute a new step in the series of acts of harassment and intimidation against the human rights defender, which appears to be directly motivated by his efforts to provide legal representation to victims of human rights violations. Front Line Defenders fears for the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Patrice Florvilus, DOP staff members and their families in the light of the previous threats against them. Furthermore, Front Line Defenders is concerned at the precedent that the summons may set in undermining the independence of the legal profession.