Human Rights Developments
After three years of repression, 1995 marked the reemergence of Haitian civil society. Popular and political organizations reorganized and rediscovered their rights to freedom of expression and association. Street demonstrations against the prime minister and even the president proceeded without incident. Freed from the threat of violence, the media ended self-censorship. From October 1994 to October 1995, only some 1,000 Haitians sought refuge outside their country.
The restored Haitian government and international forces in Haiti, particularly those provided by the U.S. government, undertook the dramatic reshaping of Haiti's security forces. The Haitian government largely dismantled the military and dismissed the despised section chiefs (chefs de sections) who had exercised near-total control in rural areas and small towns during the period of military rule. Parasitic paramilitary structures that were responsible for severe human rights abuses_including the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (Front pour l'Avancement et le Progrès Haïtien, FRAPH), a particularly violent organization_were not formally dismantled or disarmed but were weakened by the military's demise.
In December 1994, the Haitian government passed a law mandating the creation of a new police force, the Haitian National Police, that would gradually displace the recycled soldiers serving as interim police. Approximately 5,000 new police were scheduled to be deployed by February 1996, in time for the planned withdrawal of U.N. peacekeeping forces.
The U.S. Justice Department's International Criminal Investigations and Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) ran every stage of the selection, classroom training, and on-the-job training of the Haitian National Police. The ICITAP-led recruitment relied on a rigorous examination but did not fully explore human rights concerns. New police officers were involved in a handful of shooting incidents that involved the use of excessive force. In September, the Haitian government suspended two new officers implicated in the use of excessive force but did not initiate prosecutions against them.
Over 3,000 former Haitian soldiers remained on the streets in 1995 as members of the interim police force after a superficial human rights screening. Public recognition of their military past made the force unpopular in many areas. The force also included approximately 900 former Haitian refugees recruited at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo. In several towns, the cowed interim police refused to patrol. Where they did play an active role, some interim police were implicated in incidents of unnecessarily using deadly force in apprehending suspects. Although several members of the force were disciplined and removed for these incidents, the results of internal investigations were rarely made public. As of this writing none of those disciplined were being prosecuted for criminal violations. The interim police were demobilized in stages as each group of new police was deployed.
The structural shift from an autonomous, abusive military to a police force answerable to civilian authority was a positive development. The initial efforts of the police inspector general's office and the adoption of a police code of conduct were also encouraging steps. Nonetheless, greater attention to human rights concerns in the selection of recruits and leaders, and in the training and deployment of the new police, would have improved the performance of the new force and diminished the risk of its committing abuses in the future.
While state-sponsored human rights violations declined following the demise of the military government, there was an increase in common crime. Some of this was linked to former Haitian soldiers. A disturbing pattern of vigilante killings also emerged in which large crowds often violently attacked suspected collaboraters with the military or suspected criminals. Beating and stoning deaths, which local leaders attributed to a perception that the justice system was not working, reached a high of forty-five in March. The government publicly condemned such killings, but it rarely took legal action against those responsible for vigilante violence. President Aristide made no major public intervention to denounce vigilante actions. In a eulogy for a slain congressman on November 11, the president encouraged civilians to take the law into their own hands by "ordering" them to accompany the Haitian police in disarmament efforts. Despite the president's admonishment to act within the law, this invitation for active civilian participation in police functions contributed to eruptions of violence in several cities and a number of deaths. As of mid-November, Prime Minister Claudette Werleigh had clarified that the only appropriate civilian assistance to police disarmament efforts was in providing information, but President Aristide had not retracted his earlier statement.
From February to November 1995, over twenty people were killed "execution-style" in murders committed with heavy weaponry where robbery did not appear to be the primary motive. The victims included a recently elected congressman, former soldiers, officers, members of paramilitary groups, businessmen, an attorney, and gas station owners and employees. Specific allegations of the involvement of agents of the Aristide government emerged in regard to one case, the slaying of anti-Aristide activist Mireille Durocher Bertin and pilot Eugene "Junior" Baillergeau, who were killed in March. As of mid-November 1995, neither the Haitian government nor the F.B.I. team assigned to the case had produced further evidence to confirm any state involvement. The Ministry of Justice formed a special investigation unit in October to probe all of these cases.
In December 1994, the Haitian government announced the formation of a National Commission for Truth and Justice (Commission Nationale de Vérité et Justice), presided by Haitian sociologist Françoise Boucard. The government later named three Haitian and three foreign commissioners to serve with Boucard. The commission's mandate directed it to document the most serious human rights violations committed under military rule, paying special attention to "crimes against humanity" and "aggressions of a sexual nature" against women, and to prepare a public report of its findings together with recommendations to the Haitian government. While not empowered to initiate prosecutions, Boucard announced in September that the commission's report would identify perpetrators by name where there was sufficient evidence to do so. The commission initially was plagued by insufficient means and disorganization, and investigators did not begin field investigations on rights abuses until July. Boucard maintained, however, that the commission would finalize its report in December.
The Haitian Ministry of Justice, with the assistance of a team of foreign lawyers, investigated some of the most notorious extrajudicial executions of the military period. Seven men closely linked to the military government and a member of a paramilitary group were found guilty in abstentia in one such case_the murder of Aristide supporter Antoine Izméry_and a soldier received a sentence of life at hard labor for another infamous killing.
The Haitian government also successfully carried out prosecutions in several less well known cases of abuses committed under military rule. However, some judges refused to investigate and prosecute reputed members of the paramilitary_the infamous attachés_and former members of the Haitian military, fearing retribution after the departure of international forces in February 1996. As of early October 1995, no member of Haiti's armed forces had been successfully prosecuted and sent to prison for human rights abuses, thereby continuing a legacy of impunity.
The Haitian government, with international support, initiated justice, prison, and electoral reforms in 1995, but these efforts lagged behind police reform. Prison reform began with several concrete steps, such as creating a new civilian prison authority and raising the salaries of prison guards. International efforts played a dramatic role, particularly in the registration of detainees, providing materials for physical repairs, and feeding prisoners. While the participation of some minimally screened former soldiers in the new prison authority was troubling, prison conditions improved significantly. The Haitian government closed unofficial detention centers, and the new prison authority instituted some critical reforms, including the separation of women and children from adult males at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.
The rampant abuse of prisoners that existed under the military government and for the first months after the September 1994 multinational intervention diminished dramatically in 1995. Cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees became the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, prisoners rioted in the National Penitentiary in February and April 1995, partly because many did not know why they had been arrested. Judges compounded prison overcrowding by continuing to sentence debtors to prison despite the clear prohibition on imprisonment for debt in international law that is binding on Haiti. Several minors were reportedly beaten while in detention in June, and the failure to segregate adults from minors and convicts from pre-trial detainees persisted in provincial prisons. During a transfer of prisoners in early May, some interim police officers reportedly kicked and beat detainees with rifle butts while they were handcuffed. The same officer the detainees accused of ordering their mistreatment was later named to head the Fort National prison for women and minors.
One of the government's initial steps in addressing problems with the judicial system was to replace some judges and prosecutors that were named by the illegal military government with Aristide's 1991 appointees. In addition, the minister of justice increased court officials' wages, and copies of the basic Haitian legal texts and office materials were distributed to some courthouses. While the Haitian government took some concrete steps to improve the judicial system, in many districts the courts denied detainees full legal protection. Judicial officials ordered some arrests of questionable legality, including several based on warrants lacking details of specific acts, dates, or places. The Haitian legal system's reliance on public denunciations (la clameur publique) substituted for criminal investigations or rigorous proof. The extremely limited calendar for criminal trials virtually ensured lengthy pre-trial incarceration of anyone charged with a violent crime.
Following Aristide's return, the Haitian government created a new electoral law and named a Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). The June 1995 electoral period was marred by several cases of violence directed against CEP staff members or political party supporters. On voting day, national and international security forces cooperated to maintain a relatively peaceful climate. Nonetheless, in some areas ballots were destroyed and voting places and electoral offices were attacked, causing the CEP to cancel and then reschedule the vote. Haitian poll watchers representing political parties turned out in impressive numbers as did international observers.
Although press freedoms were extensive, Information Minister Henry Claude Ménard seized 1,500 copies of the government newspaper L'Union in July following the publication of a story criticizing the government's "abandonment" of the newspaper.
The Right to Monitor
The Role of the International Community
The United Nations and the Organisation of American States
The U.N. and OAS continued to support the International Civilian Mission in Haiti (Mission Civile Internationale en Haïti OEA/ONU, MICIVIH), an international human rights monitoring team that had 190 observers as of October. MICIVIH was present in Haiti for two periods under military rule and returned in late 1994. The MICIVIH's leadership and respected work in Haiti contributed to a continued focus on human rights issues. At the same time, the MICIVIH did not fully take advantage of its potential to publicly voice human rights concerns, preferring in most cases to work behind the scenes. The MICIVIH monitors conducted field research, provided expert assistance to the truth commission, and participated in some human rights education efforts. Although the MICIVIH's mandate was due to expire in February 1996, Human Rights Watch/Americas encouraged the extension of its mission further into 1996.
The OAS Election Monitoring unit posted a significant number of impartial observers throughout the country for all of the elections held in 1995 and provided thorough reporting on those elections.
The European Union
In late 1994 and 1995, the prominent U.S. involvement in Haiti overshadowed that of other countries or institutions. The U.S. presence included leadership of the multinational forces, significant involvement in UNMIH with almost 3,000 U.S. troops, and a prominent role in virtually every aspect of institutional reform, including the evolution of Haiti's new national police force and reforms of the Haitian judiciary and prison system.
U.S. leadership of these efforts contributed to the diminution of human rights abuses in Haiti. In some respects, however, the U.S. involvement in Haiti in 1995 paid insufficient attention to human rights concerns. The U.S. role in forming the interim police force, for example, utilized inadequate human rights screening of former Haitian soldiers for previous human rights abuses. After reneging on an earlier pledge, in September 1995, well after the truth commission was underway, the U.S. said it would contribute $50,000 to the commission's work, but as of late October had not delivered the funds.
Furthermore, the U.S. did not offer full cooperation with Haitian government efforts to prosecute those who committed abuses under the military government_former Haitian soldiers or members of FRAPH_even where the U.S. reportedly possessed critical evidence. For example, the U.S. failed to provide Haitian prosecutors with evidence seized from U.S.-led raids of FRAPH headquarters in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien in September and October 1994.
FRAPH leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant fled Haiti in December 1994, entered the United States on a tourist visa, which U.S. immigration authorities later said was a mistake, and was arrested in New York in May. The Haitian courts had previously issued a warrant for his arrest for crimes committed under military rule, and the Haitian government filed for his extradition. In September, a U.S. immigration judge ordered Constant, a CIA informant who had potentially embarrassing information to disclose about U.S. involvement in Haiti, deported to Haiti. Constant's case was the most egregious of hundreds of potential cases against FRAPH members that would have benefited from the immediate release of documents held by the U.S. government to Haitian prosecutors.
Additional reports of prior U.S. links to human rights violators under military rule appeared in the magazine The Nation (New York), which cited U.S. officials in Haiti as stating that Marcel Morissaint, the alleged gunman in the 1993 assassination of Minister of Justice Guy Malary, had been an informant paid by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency from 1991 to 1995. Jean-Joseph Exumé, the justice minister, told The Nation that Morissaint had been "under U.S. protection" and was removed from custody with U.S. assistance. National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and State Department officials denied the Nation report.
A U.S. Army captain, Lawrence Rockwood, was detained by U.S. military police, forced to return to the U.S., and subsequently court-martialed for his September 1994 effort to investigate human rights conditions at the notorious National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.
The U.S. Agency for International Development took a leading role in judicial reform by awarding a comprehensive administration of justice project to a U.S. firm. However, the minimal consultation with Haitian experts in designing the program raised questions about its appropriateness.
The U.S. government continued practices that violated international refugee protections. In January 1995, the U.S. forcibly repatriated nearly 4,000 Haitians who had been interdicted and brought to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba, under a safe haven policy established during military rule. The U.S. government forced the Haitians to return without first allowing them, as is required in international law, to explain the reasons for their departure. International refugee protections adopted by the U.S. require that persons with a well-founded fear of political persecution should not be forced to return to their country. From October 1994 to September 1995, the U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 200 interdicted Haitians without a refugee hearing. Attorney General Janet Reno refused relief to 300 Haitian minors at Guantánamo while Cubans held there were granted humanitarian parole because of harsh conditions. In early 1995, there were credible reports that some American military personnel at Guantánamo were involved in incidents of physical and psychological abuse of the minors, including the use of solitary confinement and shackling. Of the over 20,000 Haitians taken to Guantánamo, not a single one left the camps as a recognized refugee in spite of having fled a brutal military government.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Americas
In March, with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, we published Security Compromised: Recycled Haitian Soldiers on the Police Front Line, which examined and expressed concerns about the Haitian and U.S. government's selection and retraining of former Haitian soldiers for the interim police force. We highlighted security concerns and organizational irregularities in a pre-electoral report, Human Rights Conditions Prior to the June 1995 Elections, urging heightened security for electoral officials and candidates and full clarification of problems in the voter registration and candidate review process conducted by the Provisional Electoral Council. In October, we released a comprehensive joint report with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, Human Rights in Haiti After President Aristide's Return, that pointed to dramatic improvement in human rights in Haiti tempered by a need to consolidate gains with heightened efforts to establish accountability for past wrongs and improve institutional reforms.
We undertook several additional initiatives to address impunity concerns, particularly in areas where we had conducted previous intensive research and advocacy. We provided the truth commission with all of our reports detailing the repression under military rule, and in May we co-authored a joint letter signed by nine international human rights organizations urging international support for the commission. We applauded the truth commission's special focus on sexual violence and internal displacement as tools of political repression. In September, we announced in Haiti the release of The Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights, highlighted the report's coverage of politically motivated rape, and urged the Haitian government to intensify prosecution efforts against those responsible for government-sponsored sexual violence committed under military rule. Our French translation of the June election report was released in September with a letter to President Aristide urging prosecutions for all crimes committed during the pre and post-electoral period.
Human Rights Watch/Americas actively engaged the U.S. government with regard to human rights protections in Haiti and for Haitian refugees. In January, we vigorously protested the illegal repatriation of Haitians from Guantánamo communicating our concerns to the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We filed two Freedom of Information Act requests with the Departments of Justice and Defense regarding reported U.S. military personnel involvement in abuses of Haitian minors at Guantánamo. Both requests were denied and were under appeal at year's end. We visited the ICITAP-directed police academy in Haiti and held meetings with their Haiti and U.S.-based staff. We also engaged the State Department, the National Security Council, members of congress, the Department of Justice, U.S. AID, and other U.S. government agencies in direct dialogue concerning police selection and training, elections, and other concerns.