Human Rights Watch joined a United Nations envoy in calling on the U.N. General Assembly to press the U.S. government to return intact evidence of death-squad crimes to Haitian law enforcement officials.
U.S. troops entering Haiti on September 19, 1994 seized approximately 160,000 documents and other materials from Haitian paramilitary and military headquarters, and Washington has said that it will only return the materials once U.S. citizens' names have been deleted. The government of Haiti has insisted that the documents must not be tampered with.
Today, the United Nations independent expert on human rights in Haiti, Adama Dieng of Senegal, in his report to the General Assembly, repeated his appeal to the United States to return the seized materials promptly and without alterations. Dieng has made such pleas in the past, but the U.S. has refused to heed them. This time, Dieng called on the General Assembly to adopt a resolution seeking the return of the documents. Dieng noted that the information constituted a rich source of evidence for the prosecution of those guilty of abuses during Haiti's 1991-1994 military regime.
"These thugs terrorized Haiti for three years, murdering, torturing and raping," said Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch. "The United States has taken away a potential gold-mine of evidence which could help bring some of these people to justice and now won't give it back."
U.S. forces seized the documents and other materials from paramilitary FRAPH (Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti) and Haitian military offices in the fall of 1994, reportedly including "trophy" photographs of torture victims, audio and videotapes of torture sessions, membership applications for FRAPH, passports, identification cards, and business records. The material was taken to the United States without the knowledge or consent of Haitian authorities.
The U.S. government has maintained that U.S. citizens' names and identifying information must be deleted from the materials before they are returned to Haitian custody. This apparently serves the illegitimate purpose of covering up possible U.S. complicity in political murder and other abuses, particularly the apparent involvement of U.S. intelligence agents with the military regime and FRAPH.
FRAPH reportedly was founded with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assistance and Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, its director, repeatedly stated that he received regular CIA payments. Constant was detained in the U.S. and ordered deported by a U.S. immigration judge who found that "allowing [Constant] to remain in the United States fosters the impression that the United States endorses FRAPH and its actions." Nevertheless, on June 14, 1996, the Clinton administration released him into the United States rather than return him to Haiti, provided him with a work permit, and required that he abide by a gag order. He now lives in Queens, New York.
"The Clinton Administration's refusal to hand back this evidence, its insistence on shielding the identity of Americans involved with Haiti's criminals, and the protection it offers to the most wanted man in Haiti all point to a continuing cover-up of U.S. wrongdoing in Haiti," said Brody.