HAITI: Hell on Earth

February 16, 2005

Barry Healy

A new and extensive investigation into Haiti's human rights situation has found that conditions in the country have sharply deteriorated since the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was snatched from the country by US forces in February 2004. Since then a UN sponsored "interim government" has ruled Haiti, with the assistance of United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) peacekeepers.

Aristide, a radical left-wing priest, was first elected president in 1990, defeating the US-backed candidate 65% to 14%. Within seven months, however, he was overthrown in a bloody coup, which physically eliminated much of his left-wing Lavalas Movement supporters. In 1994, then-US-President Bill Clinton did a deal with Aristide, and he returned, backed by 10,000 US troops.

Despite Aristide's willingness to implement International Monetary Fund-designed austerity programs, by 2000, Washington was again funding and training his opponents. In early February, a number of leaders of the 1990 coup, since exiled, invaded Haiti at the head of armed gangs. Washington responded by declaring a crisis, kidnapping Aristide and taking him to South Africa, and installing his opponents in government.

According to the report, "Life for the impoverished majority is becoming more violent and more inhuman as the months pass since the elected government's removal".

The investigation team, led by Philadelphia lawyer Thomas Griffin, conducted its work in Haiti during November 2004 and was released in late January. The 60-page report, published by the Center for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami School of Law online at <http://www.ijdh.org>. includes documentation of masked Haitian National Police routinely committing summary executions of civilians, an outline of US involvement in the current government and graphic photos of victims of violence.

The Griffin report says that the Haitian public health system is so deficient as to be non-existent. It describes dead bodies left on the street to be eaten by pigs and dogs and hospitals where wounded youths (often the victims of police shootings) are left to die untreated because of inability to pay for care.

"The General Hospital's emergency room is a scene of bodies dripping blood, groans of pain from men, women and children and a nauseating odour", the report says. "Treatment by doctors is rare, as the slightest procedure, even a bandage, requires a payment."

Independent Haitian press agency AHP reported on January 24 that CARLI (the Committee of Lawyers for the Respect of Civil Liberties) expressed concern over the violations of the right to life that have become the norm in Haiti, particularly in the populous districts of Port-au-Prince, which are centres of support for Aristide and Lavalas.

CARLI said that individuals injured during operations by the police who were being treated at hospitals have been abducted then put to death by the police.

CARLI cited the cases of Lavalas activist Jimmy Charles and journalist Abdias Jean, who were both executed on January 14. The bullet-ridden body of Jimmy Charles was discovered in the Port-au-Prince General Hospital morgue although he had been handed over to Haitian police by MINUSTAH troops.

Abdias Jean was killed while he was covering a police sweep in the populist Cite de Dieu area.

MINUSTAH spokesperson Damian Onses Cardona declared on January 26 that it rejects any responsibility in the killing of people who have been taken into custody by UN soldiers and given to the national police.

AHP reported on January 28 that a group of women has denounced serial rapes perpetrated over months in populist districts of the capital. The women declared that a number of young girls, between 15 and 22 years old, had been raped in different districts of the capital, notably in Bel-Air and Cite de Dieu.

The women say that masked men turn up in these districts and if they don't find the individuals they claim to be looking for, women, particularly young women, "pay for it".

The women denounced the behaviour of human rights organisations and women's groups that were active against the Aristide government, but who now don't care about the rapes and other abuse of poor women.

United Nations peacekeepers told investigators their inability to stop street violence in the poorest neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital. Such poor neighbourhoods are the norm in Haiti, where 65% of the population lives on less than $1 per day.

One UN commander complained that all he has done in Haiti is "engage in daily guerilla warfare".

In January 31 Haiti's provisional Electoral Council (CEP) published the calendar for various elections during 2005. Municipal and local polls are set for October 9 and the two rounds of the presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for November 13 and December 18 respectively.

These elections are expected to take place in the absence of Fanmi Lavalas, which is the most powerful political organisation in the country. Lavalas officials said that the party could not expect to participate in these elections while many of its senior officials, members and supporters have been imprisoned, hunted down and summarily executed across the country.

(The independent Haitian press agency Agence Haitienne de Presse (AHP) and its sister organisation Radio Solidarite are appealing for funds. Donations can be transmitted through the US based human right group Rights Action at <http://www.rightsaction.org>.

From Green Left Weekly, February 16, 2005.
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