I/A Court H.R., Case of Yvon Neptune v. Haiti. Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of May 6, 2008. French Version. Series C No. 180.

Non official brief

This summary is also published in the website of the Council of Europe in the following link: www.venice.coe.int/files/Bulletin/B2008-2-e.pdf





A criminal suspect, if prosecuted, has the right to be brought promptly before a competent organ of justice or investigation in order to substantiate the charges against him and to achieve the purposes of the administration of justice, particularly the determination of the truth, so as not to prolong indefinitely the effects of a criminal prosecution.



Any domestic law or measure that imposes costs, or in any other way obstructs an individual's access to the courts, and that is not warranted by what is reasonably needed for the administration of justice, should be considered contrary to Article 8.1 ACHR. Any person who is committed to trial must have the effective possibility of obtaining a final ruling without undue delays resulting from the lack of diligence and care that the courts of justice must guarantee.


Any requirement established by the national laws that is not complied with when depriving a person of his liberty will render this deprivation unlawful and contrary to the American Convention on Human Rights.


To ensure that a deprivation of liberty is not arbitrary, the measures that deprive or restrict liberty must be appropriate, proportionate, and necessary to further a legitimate end. When a criminal proceeding is invalid ab initio, subsequent actions in the context of those proceedings are also invalid, and detention for any period of time is unlawful and arbitrary.


In order to adequately inform a person of the reasons for his detention, that person must understand that he or she is being detained, and the agent carrying out the detention must inform him of the essential facts and legal grounds for his detention in simple language, free of technicalities.


While immediate judicial control is a measure intended to avoid arbitrary or unlawful detention, if a person does not receive adequate information on the reasons for his detention, he does not know what charges he must defend himself against, and consequently, judicial control becomes meaningless.


The principle of legality (freedom from ex post facto laws) obliges states to define criminal acts or omissions as clearly and precisely as possible.


Detention conditions that do not meet minimum standards constitute inhuman treatment.


The separation of accused persons from convicted persons requires not only keeping them in different cells, but also that these cells be located in different sections within a detention center, or in different institutions, if possible. The State must demonstrate the existence and functioning of a classification system for prisoners in penitentiary centers, as well as the existence of exceptional circumstances if it does not separate accused persons from convicted persons.




I. In March 2004, after Yvon Neptune's mandate as Prime Minister of Haiti had ended, the transitional government then in power accused him of having ordered and participated in a massacre and in the arson of houses and cars in St. Marc. An arrest warrant was issued that same month, and Neptune was detained in June 2004. In September 2005, a court of first instance declared that there was enough evidence to try him as an accomplice in the commission of killings, rape, arson, and other crimes. Neptune was put in prison, where he endured unsanitary conditions and was placed in a cell near those of convicted prisoners. He was released on humanitarian grounds in July 2006. In April 2007, a court of appeals held that it did not have jurisdiction to try him, since the Haitian Constitution provided for a political trial before the Senate for acts committed while Prime Minister.


On 14 December 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter, the Commission) filed an application against the State of Haiti to determine the international responsibility of the State for the violation of Articles 5.1, 5.2 and 5.4 ACHR (right to humane treatment), Articles 7.4, 7.5 and 7.6 ACHR (right to personal liberty), Articles 8.1, 8.2.b and 8.2.c ACHR (right to a fair trial), Article 9 ACHR (freedom from ex post facto laws), and Article 25.1 ACHR (right to judicial Protection), all in connection with Article 1.1 ACHR (obligation to respect rights), to the detriment of Yvon Neptune.


II. In its judgment of 6 May 2008, the Court held that the State violated Neptune's right to have access to a competent court in the substantiation of the accusations against him and the right to an effective recourse established in Articles 8.1 and 25 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, since he was subjected to criminal proceedings before a court that was not competent to hear the allegations against him. This was aggravated by the fact that the appellate court's decision was not duly notified, prolonging Neptune's state of juridical uncertainty.


Second, the Court held that the State violated the right to personal liberty established in Articles 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, since it detained Neptune for over two years by order of a court that lacked jurisdiction to try him. Because his detention did not meet all the requirements established by national law, it was invalid ab initio. The Court also found that the State violated Articles 7.4 and 7.5 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, because the charges against Neptune were drawn up fourteen months after his arrest, making it impossible to defend himself or obtain prompt judicial review. The Court found no violation of Article 7.6 ACHR, since it had no evidence that Neptune attempted to use domestic remedies specifically to assess the lawfulness of his detention.


Third, the Court found no violation of Article 9 ACHR, since Neptune was not tried or convicted of being accomplice to a "massacre", a crime not defined under the penal code.


Finally, the Court held that the State violated the right to humane treatment established in Articles 5.1 and 5.2 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, because Neptune endured unsanitary conditions, a climate of insecurity, and a lack of effective measures to protect his physical integrity while in prison. In addition, the State violated Article 5.4 ACHR, in relation to Article 1.1 ACHR, because it did not implement a system for classifying prisoners that separated the accused from the convicted within Neptune's prison, nor prove the existence of exceptional circumstances to excuse this deficiency.


Consequently, the Court ordered the State to ensure that Neptune's juridical situation be defined in relation to the criminal proceedings filed against him, and that if further proceedings are opened, these should satisfy the requirements of due process and respect the right to defense of the accused. It also ordered the State to institute procedures regulating the political trial before the Senate required by the Constitution, and to substantially improve the conditions of the Haitian prisons, adapting them to international human rights norms. Finally, the Court ordered, inter alia, that parts of its judgment be published in the State's Official Gazette and another national newspaper, and that the State pay pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and the reimbursement of costs and expenses.