Haiti is in a time of critical transition as it attempts to move forward from a period of significant instability and insecurity. In this time of re-building and restructuring, it is essential that the principals of justice and law are respected and promoted. It is fundamental that past injustices are validated, that justice is sought, and that fundamental human rights are defended and protected.
Cycles of Violence
Haiti’s history is marked by a cycle of violence and political upheavals, where the victims of yesterday become the persecutors of tomorrow. Haiti has recently witnessed this phenomenon.
During the coup d’état years between 1991 and 1994, thousands of Haitians supporting Aristide were subjected to various forms of brutality and violence at the hands of the coup leaders. Extra-judicial executions, rape, torture were commonplace, and bloody massacres were committed against Haitian citizens opposed to the coup – the famous Raboteau Massacre of 22 April 1994 being one such example. But the tides turned significantly in the behaviour and attitude of members of the Fanmi Lavalas party during the past three (3) years of the Aristide presidency during which individuals in opposition to the ruling Lavalas party were persecuted.
Given this cycle, NCHR is quite concerned about acts of revenge and retaliation being carried out against Lavalas supporters. Immediately following Aristide’s departure, NCHR began receiving an increase in calls and visits from Lavalas supporters who found themselves victims of violence.
Perhaps one of the most horrific examples is that of five (5) young men of La Saline who were brutally executed by Haitian police officers. Known Lavalas militants, the young men, ranging in ages from seventeen (17) to twenty-four (24), were apprehended by the police on Saturday, 20 March 2004, to be found dead the next day, their bodies discarded in different areas of the capital. It has been discovered that the officers implicated in the murders had previously been working under the orders of Jean-Claude Jean Baptiste, former Police Chief and one of Aristide’s right-hand men.
NCHR became involved immediately, providing various forms of assistance to the families including the facilitation of meetings with senior police officials. The five (5) Haitian police officers implicated in the murders have been suspended and are under investigation by the General Inspection of the Haitian National Police.
With a reputation of being highly politicized, unprofessional, and the largest source of human rights violations, the Haitian National Police (PNH) force has also come under attack. Haitian police officers have become targets of violence, revenge and retaliation. Among others, NCHR is currently treating a gruesome dossier involving the violent murders of two (2) police officers in the metropolitan zone. To date, NCHR has been able to assist and accompany the families of these officers in seeking justice for their lost loved ones.
NCHR’s doors are open to all victims of abuse and violence related to the disrespect of basic human rights, regardless of political affiliation, socio-economic status, sex, religion, or profession. In the past, victims of human rights abuses – whatever their background or affiliation – have sought out human rights organizations and the local press to denounce what has happened to them. As victims and/or their families speak out against their violators and seek the assistance of NCHR, the organization will continue to do everything within its jurisdiction to see that justice is rendered and fundamental rights are protected, defended and promoted.
The Noose of Impunity
There exists a fine line between forgetting the past and moving on, between forgiveness and seeking justice for those who have been victimized. To be sure, reconciliation must be completely free of thoughts and acts of revenge and retaliation. Yet at the same time, reconciliation is not mutually exclusive to the principles of justice and truth.
NCHR is extremely preoccupied with the question of impunity which has been strangling this country for many years, with numerous examples from the years of the Aristide presidency. Many horrific and savage crimes were committed during the past three (3) years – crimes that must be dealt with in order for reconciliation and advancement.
One can cite the Jean Dominique murder, Brignol Lindor murder, the executions of Viola Robert’s three (3) sons, and the most recent La Scierie (St. Marc) massacre of 11 February 2004. These are high profile cases to be sure; yet for every high profile case, there are a plethora of cases, well-documented yet largely not publicized.
These crimes involved individuals from all levels of society – from high ranking government officials, to members of the Haitian judiciary, leaders of state companies, senior police officials and officers at all levels of the Haitian National Police, and members of organizations affiliated with the Lavalas party.
Mobilizing to Fight Impunity
Many wounds – emotional, psychological and physical – have not yet healed. Many victims and their families continue to grieve, unable to find closure as justice has not been rendered. Many questions have been left unanswered. And they must be answered and the hurt must be addressed. In order to build a society based on peace, there must be justice. In order for reconciliation there must be recognition of past wrongs and injustices. The truth must be exposed and subsequently dealt with in order for Haitian society to move forward.
For to forget what has happened in this country during the past three (3) years is to repeat what has happened. This is the cycle of impunity that must be broken. And it can be broken, not by forgetting and covering over, but rather by remembering and exposing, seeking and finding, judging and holding people accountable – in doing so, changing and building a future of peace and justice in Haiti.
To mobilize and reinforce its dedication to the fight against impunity, NCHR has developed an anti-impunity campaign full of diverse activities with the goal of establishing a culture of accountability and responsibility, free of impunity and corruption wherein violators of human rights are held accountable for their actions.
The year-long campaign will consist of extensive field research and documentation, publication of a comprehensive report, letter-writing campaigns, photograph exhibits, and conference-debates reinforced by press coverage, radio announcements, posters and flyers.
In addition to exposing injustices, NCHR hopes the campaign activities will, among other things, serve to increase victims’ access to the judicial system and thus increase the obtainment of justice while stimulating the experience and participation of Haitian citizens in lobbying efforts and the democratic process.
Setting Judicial Precedents
Since its existence, NCHR has been striving for judicial reform on several levels, fighting to have a system that provides justice for all Haitian citizens, regardless of socio-eco-political status. In Haiti, there exists a flagrant disequilibrium in the distribution of justice. Those who have money and position are able to pay for top quality lawyers, who more than adequately represent them in a court of law. More often than not, the victims of the abuse and crimes are poor and have little to no access to a lawyer and as such, little or no access to justice. Their rights are not defended and they become victims a second time as the perpetrators go free.
Thus, with regards to the La Scierie (St. Marc) Massacre, NCHR has placed extra attention on providing assistance to these victims. This massacre, which began on 11 February 2004, is the largest and most horrific of the mass murders that took place during Aristide’s presidency: several dozens dead and/or missing, +/- 60 homes destroyed, cases of rape, several vehicles destroyed and several injured; these numbers are partial as to date, not all of the victims have been identified.
In addition to providing material and financial assistance, NCHR has made the decision to provide legal assistance to the victims and/or their families of the massacre. NCHR felt that such action is crucial for several reasons.
By providing legal assistance for the victims of La Scierie, NCHR will be promoting judicial reform through the preparation and execution of a model trial – the way things are supposed to work in a functional judicial system.
NCHR is not part of the civil class action being brought against the perpetrators of the massacre, thus maintaining its neutrality in the case. As such, NCHR will work to promote and defend the rights of those who have been arrested and who will subsequently be arrested for their implication in the massacre. To date, five (5) individuals have been arrested and placed behind bars – Dauphin ROLAND (alias Black Ronald), Harmony RONALD and Mathieu RAPHAËL (all members of the popular Lavalas organization, Bale Wouze); Amaus Mayette (former Lavalas Deputy in St. Marc), and Jocelerme Privet (former Minister of the Interior). NCHR delegations have made initial visits to all of these men in their respective places of detention immediately following their arrests and continue to make periodic visits.
Avoiding the Same Mistakes
To be sure, impunity comes in many forms. The current Haiti leadership must be careful not to commit the same injustices of the past regime by turning a blind eye to the actions of certain individuals with societal influence and position. This means placing behind bars the likes of Castra Cenafils (Raboteau Massacre), Jean Tatoune (Raboteau Massacre), Jodel Chamblain (FRAPH) and others who have been tried and sentenced for their criminal behaviour during the coup d’état years of 1991 – 1994. Furthermore, those identified as having played a role participating in the violence of the coup d’état years (according to the so-called FRAPH documents) must also be held accountable for their role in the slaughter, torture and persecution of Haitian citizens during those years.
Similarly, actions and behaviour of members of the resistance movement must also be examined, investigated, and dealt with appropriately. Prior to the La Scierie massacre, several Lavalas supporters in the town of St. Marc were victimized by violent Opposition supporters as buildings were damaged and property destroyed (such as the building of Radio Pyramid, which was set ablaze). It is imperative that the perpetrators of these acts are taken before the courts to respond for their actions and that they are dealt with accordingly. Negligence on the part of the State to do so is also to encourage impunity.
Likewise, the releasing of more than 3,500 prisoners from Haiti’s nineteen (19) prisons on and during the weeks prior to 29 February 2004, does not constitute a legal decision exonerating these individuals of the charges against them. Thus, individuals who have been tried and convicted and/or were awaiting trial, must be returned to their respective prisons so that the Haitian judiciary can treat their cases and that those who should be released will be released in a legal fashion.
Despite the call from numerous organizations and institutions, the current government has yet to demonstrate the political will to do just this, and as such, risks falling into the same abyss of impunity against which we are fighting.
It is true that we live in a world of conflict and crisis, where much death and despair abound. But it is also true that we live in a world filled with seeds of hope. And I believe that these seeds exist in Haiti. As we strive towards creating a culture based on the supremacy of human rights and the belief in the sacredness of humanity, NCHR will continue to do its part by being a voice for the voiceless, a source of hope for those who have lost hope and in doing so, pave the way for the establishment of the Rule of Law in Haiti.