The Secretary of State to the High Commissioner in Haiti (Russell)

No. 40

Sir: The Department has received and carefully considered your despatch of September 6, 1922, discussing the use of provost courts by the American occupation in Haiti.

It is fully recognized that provost courts must be used where their employment is necessary to protect the members of the American forces of occupation or the American treaty officials from personal violence or from newspaper attacks of a character which would entitle them to redress under the laws of any civilized country. The Department, however, agrees with you that provost courts should be employed most sparingly in such cases, and that Haitians should be brought to trial before them only in extremely aggravated cases where there is a clear and imperative necessity for the infliction of punishment.

On the other hand, the Department feels that provost courts should rarely, if ever, be employed for the punishment of offences against Haitian officials or individuals except, possibly, in cases where such offences, if allowed to go unpunished, would directly and unquestionably prevent the carrying out of the objects of the Treaty between the United States and Haiti. In cases of open rebellion, or of open incitement to commit attacks upon the constituted authorities, the punishment of offenders by provost courts would perhaps be justifiable, even if the forces of occupation were not directly involved. The Department does not, however, feel that newspaper attacks upon Haitian authorities, however unjust or violent, should be dealt with by provost courts, except in cases where the suppression of the newspaper [Page 560] propaganda is obviously necessary to maintain the peace. The newspaper articles transmitted by you in your despatch No. 57, of August 28, 1922,19 do not appear to the Department to be of such a dangerous nature as to justify the trial and punishment of the offenders by provost courts. The obvious means of preventing the abuses of the press would be the enactment of adequate laws for the punishment of libel and the suppression of other abuses, and the reorganization of the Haitian judiciary system to the point where the Haitian Government is in a position to enforce the laws through its own courts. The Department realizes that this reorganization will take time and that the employment of the provost courts in exceptional cases in the meantime must be determined upon in each case, as the necessity arises.

The Department has full confidence in your discretion in the matter of employing provost courts and approves of the general policy which you have followed. It desires, however, that you should be fully informed as to its views upon this subject, and that you should realize that the employment of the provost courts in any case affecting Haitian citizens, however necessary such employment may be, is a source of embarrassment to the Department and is likely to subject the Department’s policy in Haiti to very serious criticism.

I am [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Not printed.