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Police abuses and impunity for past human rights violations remained Haiti’s most pressing human rights problems during 1998. Haiti’s unresolved political crisis, which left the country without a prime minister after Rosny Smarth resigned in June 1997, impeded progress on human rights concerns. Disputes over the controversial April 1997 elections persisted, and the Provisional Electoral Council, which had dwindled to two of its nine members, was inoperable. Hundreds of United Nations Civilian Police and United States troops helped stabilize the uncertain environment.

The Haitian National Police (HNP) beat detainees with disturbing frequency in 1998, although the number of police killings was lower than in 1997. The United Nations (U.N.)/Organization of American States (OAS) International Civilian Mission in Haiti documented thirteen killings by police using excessive force in the first five months of 1998, in contrast with twenty-two during the same period of 1997. From January to May 1998, the mission confirmed 150 reports of police brutality, including cases of police clapping their hands over detainees’ ears and burning them with cigarettes. Many beatings occurred as police were carrying out arrests or when they held detainees in police lock-ups. Persistent police violence angered the public, sparking several retaliatory attacks. On August 6, 1998, an off-duty officer killed a resident of Cabaret, reportedly after a minor disagreement. In protest, local people burned tires, damaged the police station, and freed detainees from the local police lock-up. Two police units, the Company for Intervention and Maintaining Order (Compagnie d’Intervention et de Maintien de l’Ordre, CIMO) and the Intervention Group (Groupe d’Intervention), emerged as particularly abusive elements within the HNP. The units, which were modeled after U.S. Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams and received U.S. equipment and training, violated Haitian police law by carrying heavy weapons. Rather than defuse crises, the units’ aggressive practices, which included gratuitous destruction of property and beating and kicking passersby, often worsened tense situations.

On April 5, CIMO ransacked the Women’s Clinic (Klinik Fanm) in Port-au-Prince, claiming that the staff had hidden weapons in boxes of medicine. CIMO found no weapons but caused extensive damage, destroying medical equipment, medicine, and furniture. Several months after the intervention, the clinic, which had provided women’s health care and assistance to rape survivors, including those who had suffered politically motivated rapes under Haiti’s military government, from 1991 to 1994, remained closeddue to CIMO’s destructive actions. In March, the HNP sent CIMO to respond to an ongoing land dispute in Milot. CIMO officers entered a radio station run by the Milot Peasants’ Movement (Mouvman Peyizan Milo) after midnight on March 19, ransacked the station, and shot the janitor. In February 1998, a melee erupted in Mirebalais after local police killed a resident, in unclear circumstances. The police had been trying to disperse a crowd that included members of Put Order Into Disorder (Met Lod nan Dezod), an organization linked to the political party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Angered by the death, the crowd entered the police station and killed the police chief, Ricelin Dormeus. Hours later, the Intervention Group and CIMO arrived in Mirebalais, carried out some forty warrantless arrests, and beat many detainees severely.

The HNP arrested several individuals charged with plotting against state security, including former soldiers and members of the paramilitary organization, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (Front pour l’Avancement et Progrès d’Haïti, FRAPH), but the government’s extra-legal measures against these individuals did nothing to advance the rule of law. Several developments, including FRAPH leader Emmanuel Constant’s statements that the organization was still active and the August deaths of Father Jean Pierre-Louis, an activist priest, and Versaille Clotaire, a member of the president’s security detail, had raised concern about Haiti’s internal security.

On November 16, 1997, a police unit carrying heavy weapons entered the home of former police chief and presidential candidate Léon Jeune, beating and arresting both Jeune and his driver, Lony Benoit. The police acted without a warrant and, despite claims that the two men had threatened state security, the government never provided evidence of such activities. Authorities released the men on December 11, 1997. At this writing, several detainees charged with plotting against the state remained in police lock-ups or the National Penitentiary despite judges’ having ordered them to be freed. Whether prosecutors, police or prison authorities, or other government actors were responsible for their continued detention remained unclear. The HNP arrested former army Gen. Claude Raymond in July 1996 and, despite a July 1988 release order, he remained in detention at this writing. Evans François, the brother of one of the leaders of the 1991-1994 military government, Michel François, remained in the National Penitentiary despite an order to free him dated May 1997. Others detainees with judicial orders for their freedom reportedly included Guetchy Henri and Thomas Sabath, ordered released in July 1998 and Eric Dertulien and Patrick Moïse, ordered released in December 1997.

During 1998, Haiti received increased international attention as a key transshipment point for drug trafficking between South America and the United States. The involvement of numerous HNP officers in drug scandals damaged public confidence in the force. The HNP inspector general’s office disciplined several officers implicated in the burgeoning drug trade. The inspector general also investigated and disciplined officers for other criminal activities and violations of police rules but lagged in pursuing the dozens of cases of police beatings and killings. The office referred only a handful of its many drug trafficking and other criminal and human rights cases to the justice system for criminal prosecution.

Haiti’s prisons remained overcrowded in 1998. Approximately 80 percent of Haiti’s inmates were in pre-trial detention. The U.N./OAS mission noted that the National Penitentiary Administration (Administration Pénitentiaire Nationale), which became part of the HNP in 1997, had sanctioned few prison guards for mistreating prisoners. Overcrowding aggravated the poor physical conditions for prisoners and contributed to cases of physical and sexual abuse among prisoners, including those held in the Fort National facility for women and minors.

The Haitian justice system failed to address these and other human rights concerns effectively. Haiti’s weak courts pursued few criminal charges against abusive police or prison guards. Human rights activists demonstrated weekly outside the National Palace, demanding an end to impunity and reparations for human rights victims, but no major human rights case went before a Haitian court. Government attorneys continued to prepare the case against some twenty defendants implicated in the April 1994 massacre of at least fifteen individuals in Raboteau. In February 1998, government lawyers alleged that the former military government’s top leaders, Raul Cedras, Philippe Biamby, and Michel François, who had fled Haiti to Panama, the United States, and Honduras respectively, had played a role in the Raboteau attack. The government attorneys sought the extradition of the former officials, but Honduras promptly refused Haiti’s plea, and the other requests had not proven successful at this writing. In September 1998, the abrupt resignation of the judge assigned to the Raboteau case, Abraham Thélusme, shortly after he had freed one of the defendants, raised concerns of possible interference with the case and delayed setting a trial date.

The judicial system’s outdated, inefficient structure impeded prompt, fair trials. But the Haitian Parliament’s May 1998 passage of a judicial reform law offered hope for improvements. In late 1997, Haiti had opened two government offices to address citizens’ human rights concerns. The Office of Citizen Protection (Office de la Protection Citoyenne) offered Haitians a new avenue to present human rights complaints against the government but had received limited funds and was barely operational in 1998. The government also created the Office for Pursuit and Follow-up (Bureau des Poursuites et Suivi) to address the concerns raised in the 1,200-page final report of Haiti’s National Commission of Truth and Justice (Commission de la Vérite et de Justice), which had documented human rights violations under the military government, including extrajudicial executions and torture. The office had minimal impact in 1998.

On a positive note, in November 1997 a broad coalition of women’s and human rights organizations sponsored an International Tribunal Against Violence Against Haitian Women. The mock tribunal provided a historic opportunity for victims of political, sexual, and domestic violence and violence against women with disabilities to speak publicly about their experiences. The Haitian Parliament received recommendations from the tribunal’s judges and, at this writing, was considering draft laws to eliminate discrimination against women in cases of rape, sexual harassment, and adultery.













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