The failure of the Haitian police to curb widespread political violence in the wake of yesterday's attack on the presidential palace raises serious concerns, Human Rights Watch said today.
"The Haitian authorities cannot allow mob violence to go unchallenged," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch. "The government must take action against violence committed by its supporters, just as it reacts to violence by its opponents."
In an assault mounted early yesterday morning, several armed men wearing the uniform of Haiti's disbanded army stormed the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. Two police officers were reportedly killed in the attack, as well as several civilian bystanders and at least one of the assailants.
In the wake of the attack, government supporters committed serious acts of political violence, with, in many cases, little or no police response. In Gonaives, two members of the opposition party MOCHRENA were reportedly killed.
In Port-au-Prince, barricades of burning tires, erected by members of so-called popular organizations that support the party of President Aristide, blocked the main roads. Mobs traversed the city freely, setting fire to buildings associated with opposition parties and leaders. One such group burned down the home of opposition leader Gérard Pierre-Charles, who was not home at the time. According to press accounts, the police refused to intervene to prevent the attack on the house.
Other buildings that were set on fire included the headquarters of the main opposition coalition, known as the Democratic Convergence, as well as offices belonging to the opposition parties Conacom, KID, and ALLAH.
According to reports received by Human Rights Watch, journalists were also targeted. Several journalists reported being attacked or threatened, and four radio stations had to temporarily suspend their transmissions.
The government should ensure that its investigations into the attacks are prompt, thorough, and impartial, and should bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said. It should also take steps to remedy the problem of the politicization of the police forces, evident in their actions yesterday.
Human Rights Watch noted that the attacks occurred in a context of extreme political polarization. Despite negotiations brokered by the Organization of American States, the government and opposition parties had yet to agree on a plan for remedying the flawed elections of May 2000.