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This Week in Haiti: Attacks on Police, International Delegations and the Very Idea of Justice

In the last couple of weeks there have been reports of increasing activity by members of Haiti’s former army and other armed groups in Haiti. At the same time, the Haitian judiciary is taking troubling steps further down the road of impunity and politicization.

This week former soldiers–who were part of the armed uprising that led to Aristide’s ouster in February–chased the police out of the southern town of Petit Goave and took the town over in an attempt to force the interim government to re-instate the army, which Aristide dissolved in 1995. (See this Reuters report for details.)

Meanwhile, a gang in the Cite Soleil section of Port-au-Prince attacked a delegation that included French deputy foreign minister Renaud Muselier when the group went to visit a hospital in the neighborhood. Cite Soleil is a stronghold of ousted Aristide’s Lavalas party, and some groups there have vowed to do whatever is necessary to disrupt the interim government that replaced Aristide. (There’s an AFP report about the incident here.)

Our partners in Haiti, including the Human Rights Platform (POHDH) and their colleagues in the human rights groups NCHR and CARLI have been continuing to monitor human rights abuses under the new government. The recent acquittal of ex-FRAPH leader Louis Jodel Chamblain in a hastily organized, overnight trial was a disturbing sign of continuing impunity and politicization of the judiciary.

As the NCHR writes in a new report:

“Chamblain is the number 2 leader of the Front pour l’Avancement et le Progrès d’Haïti (FRAPH) – a paramilitary organization that terrorized the country during the coup d’état years of 1991-1994. Extra-judicial executions, rape, torture were commonplace, and bloody massacres were committed against Haitian citizens opposed to the coup. Antoine Izmery, a prominent business man, fervent supporter of then-exiled President Aristide and vocal opponent to the coup, was dragged from a church and executed in broad daylight on 11 September 1993. FRAPH is believed to be responsible for the murder. FRAPH is also responsible for the 22 April 1994 massacre in Raboteau – for which Chamblain was found guilty for his participation in the massacre and sentence in absentia in 2000.

His name resurfaced in the early days of 2004 as armed rebels mobilized against the Lavalas government and President Aristide, as Chamblain took a leading position within the movement which resulted in the resignation of the President on 29 February 2004. Despite reluctance on the interim government to act, Chamblain turned himself over to Haitian authorities in April 2004 following negotiations with the government officials, and significant pressure from local and international human rights organizations.

Thus, the jury’s not guilty verdict in the 16 August 2004 trial did not come as much of a surprise as human rights defenders and civil society had all but predicted it. “

Perhaps more chilling is the fact that the government has said it will prosecute representatives of the POHDH, NCHR and CARLI for their outspoken criticism of the trial (and perhaps for their demands that the Haitian justice system live up to its name). You can read the rest of their report, and more news on the situation here.