Forty-five (45) days after the regime change, the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) and the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) presented their observations, comments and recommendations during a press conference on Thursday, 15 April 2004, held a at the POHDH office in Port-au-Prince.
Divided into four (4) parts, the press conference discussed the context of the current situation via an overview of the elements that characterized the Aristide-Neptune government, a brief survey of the first month and a half of the Boniface-Latorture government, some case examples of the current reality in certain zones of the country (the Central Plateau, the North and North East) and finally POHDH and NCHR’s recommendations to government authorities.
Context of the Former Regime
The former regime’s practice of mobilizing practically all state institutions to serve its own interests and not those of the Haitian people resulted in the institutionalization of impunity within the country and the systematic violation of fundamental human rights. The manipulation of the judiciary to the point where major judicial decisions were made in the National Palace in addition to a politicized police force, the phenomenon of zero tolerance and attachés, and wide-spread armed gangs served to increase instability and insecurity. Summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detention, kidnapping, rape, theft, and overall corruption are all words frequently used when describing current events over the past three (3) years.
Since the change in governments, NCHR and POHDH have recorded a decrease in the number of human rights abuses and common law violations being reported. This is not to say that violations in both senses are not still occurring, but rather that the cases are more isolated than before. The fact that more than three thousand (3,000) freed prisoners are roaming the streets presents a significant danger and contributes to the question of insecurity still being dealt with. Even though the number of reported cases of abuse has diminished, what concerns human rights organizations such as POHDH and NCHR is what the current government intends to do about previously recorded abuses as well as the new ones. Many examples abound, one of which concerns that case of the five (5) young Lavalas men of La Saline that were brutally murder by officers of the Haitian police, on 20 March 2004.
Early Observations of the New Regime
Despite the fact that it is too early to make a complete analysis, some general observations and criticisms of the new regime can be made. On the outset, it can be observed that the new regime does not exhibit the intention or the will to use key state institutions in the same manner as Haiti’s previous leaders. Having said this, however, there are a number of concerns that have been identified by POHDH and NCHR.
There appears to be no concrete plan for a systematic campaign for disarmament or an overall strategic plan for helping the mass population, most specifically in addressing the question of cost of living. Promises to take care of the country’s severe electricity shortage and accumulation of garbage in the streets have gone unfulfilled. POHDH and NCHR are also very concerned that the new government might continue in the trends of impunity concerning cases such as Jean Tatoune, referring to the discourse of the new Justice Minister who said he would consider a pardon in Tatoune’s case. As far as NCHR and POHDH are concerned, it is not a question of consideration, but rather a question of the law and respecting that law.
While it is true that the acts of political persecution have also significantly diminished, the acts of bandit-ism, as it were, have not, particularly in the metropolitan zone. Almost daily reports of kidnappings and car thefts are broadcast on the airwaves.
Finally, NCHR and POHDH are extremely concerned about the actions of the Multinational Forces resulting the basic rights abuses, citing the occupation of the Université la Paix as just one example. Cases are being reported in which these troops, who are supposed to follow the UN guidelines for the appropriate use of force, are exhibiting an abusive use of force. The government’s lack of response in these incidents is also disturbing.
At the same time, however, the new government is showing some interesting signs of dealing with the current situation. For example, the lists of individuals forbidden to leave the country as well as the list of senior level police officers removed from the force are encouraging examples of a will on the part of the government to combat impunity. NCHR and POHDH hope that the government will not simply end with the removal of certain police officers, but will also continue with legal prosecution of those officers implicated in human rights violations.
Furthermore, human rights organizations are optimistic about the arrests of individuals implicated in a series of violent acts – more significantly, high profile individuals such as Harold Sévère and former Minister of Interior, Jocelerme Privert. However, in the case of the latter, POHDH and NCHR question the reasoning behind the arrest of Privert only and not former Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, when the evidence against Neptune concerning his participating in orchestrating the La Scierie (St. Marc) Massacre of 11 February 2004 is more substantial.
Lastly, PODHD and NCHR are pleased to see the nomination of a new State Prosecutor in Port-au-Prince. The State Prosecutor’s Office plays a key role in the establishment of the rule of law and is an essential tool in building democracy in Haiti.
The Reality in the Countryside
Following monitoring activities carried out by both institutions, it is clear that the new regime does not have control over certain territories. For example, there is neither the presence of the Haitian National Police or the multinational troops in areas in the North and North East, such as Trou du Nord and Ouanamite. These cities are being run by armed groups – 300 former military in Ouanamite and the Kosovo Army in Trou du Nord. In the case of Trou du Nord, the Kosovo Army has set up its own judicial system with prison cells in which they are detaining citizens. Despite a police and multinational force presence in Cap-Haitian, the group of initial rebels that took over the city in February has increased to 414 (of which only 52 are former military) having been infiltrated by street gangs and bandits. This group also controls the city’s port. Court offices are finally functioning but the State Prosecutor’s Office remains closed, constituting a significant hindrance in the distribution of justice.
These and similar realities in other parts of the country reveal that the situation within Haiti is still extremely volatile.
For NCHR and POHDH, the fight against impunity on all levels must be at the forefront of this new government. As such the organizations recommend that the Boniface-Latorture regime to everything possible to establish the independence of key state institutions and to sufficiently reinforce these institutions. Additionally a plan of security must be developed and implemented.
Concerning questions of human rights violations, NCHR and POHDH strongly encourage the government to search out and recover those individuals – high profile individuals such as Jean Tatoune, as well as low profile cases – released from the various prisons in the country and return them to their respective prisons. Similarly, those accused of their participation in the Raboteau Massacre, such as Louis- Jodel Chamblain, be arrested and brought before the courts. Likewise, POHDH and NCHR call for the arrest and prosecution of those accused in cases of severe human rights abuses, such as the Jean Dominique murder case, the Brignol Lindor murder case, the Piatre Massacre, the events of 5 December 2003, the murders of Viola Robert’s three (3) sons, the execution of police officer Ricardo Benjamin by fellow officers, and sabotage at Boutilliers and the La Scierie Massacre, to name a few.
NB. During the press discussion following the presentation, the NCHR and POHDH representatives fielded a serious of questions. One extremely important distinction that the organizations highlighted during this question period is the difference between political persecution and the fight against impunity. It is important not to consider the arrest and prosecution of members and/or supporters of the Lavalas party who have been implicated in human rights violations and/or infractions of the law as political persecution. Those who break the law and/or commit serious human rights violations must be brought to justice, regardless of one’s political affiliation. Similarly, those who have been arrested, whatever their political affiliation and for whatever charge, maintains their fundamental rights as human beings. Everyone has the right to assemble a defense, the right to a fair and just trial, in additional to their basic rights to life and security of person.