Human Rights Developments
The year 1991 marked the first time in Haiti's history that its citizens, however briefly, lived under a freely elected government. But the rule of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was violently suspended in September with the re-emergence of brutal military rule after the latest in a series of bloody coups d'état.
President Aristide's human rights record, though flawed, was distinguished by his efforts to extend civilian control over the army _ the chief perpetrator of human rights violations and the main obstacle to democracy in Haiti since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. President Aristide pressured generals who had controlled the army under previous abusive military regimes to retire; promoted officers believed to be committed to democracy; and dismissed or transferred to obscure posts others known for human rights violations.
President Aristide also abolished the corrupt and abusive system of rural section chiefs. He admitted reform-minded officers into the police force, which in turn began to curb "insecurity," the rampant and often politically motivated violence that has periodically gripped Haiti's cities since 1986. The seven months of the Aristide government also saw a notable decrease in the loss of lives in rural land conflicts, which in the past had been a source of some of the worst massacres, often at the hands of corrupt soldiers in league with large landowners.
Nevertheless, President Aristide's human rights record was marred by sporadic military killings of civilians and Aristide supporters in the countryside. In addition, five youths were killed by officers friendly to the Aristide administration and the murders were never adequately investigated. Further, there was an apparent tolerance by the Aristide government of the lynching and intimidation of suspected criminals and at times political opponents by mobs of civilians. The popular killings are, in significant part, a symptom of frustration with the dysfunctional criminal-justice system inherited from President Aristide's predecessors. With justifiably little confidence that criminals, regardless of motivation, will be tried, convicted and punished, some Haitians have simply taken the law into their own hands. These underlying weaknesses in the judicial system persisted under the Aristide government despite its efforts to remove corrupt judges and train new ones. Hundreds of detainees _ including those alleged to have plotted against the civilian government in an earlier coup attempt on January 7 _ were permitted to languish for months in prison, under deplorable conditions, before even being formally charged, let alone brought to trial.
In part, however, popular violence contributed to the weakness of the judicial system. Threats of lynchings were used by Aristide supporters to intimidate lawyers who attempted to defend the January 7 coup-plotters and the court that sought to try them, as well as members of Parliament who opposed the president's policies. President Aristide failed to use his tremendous moral influence to call for an end to these acts of intimidation, and in two speeches, in August and September, publicly seemed to endorse such threats of violence. The president's own publicly ambivalent attitude toward popular violence was later cited by the Haitian army as an excuse to commit yet another serious human rights violation by depriving the Haitian people of their elected government.
In the three months since the September 30 coup, the military government has accumulated a disastrous record on human rights. The regime is headed by Jean-Jacques Honorat, once a leading human rights advocate, who was installed as prime minister in a cynical attempt by the army to put the best face on an outlaw government.
In the immediate aftermath of the coup, Haitian troops killed at least three hundred civilians and wounded thousands more, in random shootings and targeted massacres of residents in impoverished neighborhoods who were suspected of being supporters of President Aristide. As many as one thousand may have been killed, according to the Platform of Haitian Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights, a coalition of nine human rights groups monitoring abuses in post-coup Haiti. In one massacre in the days following the coup in Lamentin, just outside Port-au-Prince, soldiers sought to avenge the murder of one or two troops by mowing down pedestrians and shooting into homes, killing some thirty to forty people. On October 2, soldiers killed some thirty civilians in Cité Soleil, an impoverished section of Port-au-Prince with strong pro-Aristide leanings, after a crowd reportedly attacked a police station in the neighborhood. Indiscriminate shooting, heavy automatic-weapons fire, the lobbing of grenades, and mass arrests by soldiers were reported in the early days of the coup in the Carrefours, Carrefours-Feuilles and Martissant sections of Port-au-Prince. Thousands of residents from these neighborhoods, which again generally backed Aristide, have been forced to flee to the countryside.
On October 7, heavily armed troops surrounded the Legislative Palace, shooting automatic gunfire into the air, and stormed the building. The soldiers forced legislators at gunpoint _ and by threatening to use hand grenades _ to name Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nerette, an elderly jurist, to replace President Aristide. That day scores of armed soldiers badly beat Mayor of Port-au-Prince Evans Paul, a close associate of President Aristide, when they arrested him at the Port-au-Prince airport as he attempted to travel to Venezuela to meet with the exiled president. After hours of beatings and vows by soldiers to kill him, Paul was released the next day and went into hiding. At the same time, in an adjacent room at the airport, another group of soldiers broke up a meeting between a delegation of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the military junta.
In December, the military authorities stepped up their attacks on the Haitian legislature. On December 15, a rural section chief _ under army authority _ shot and killed Astrel Charles, a member of Parliament, in his home in the northern town of Pignon. Charles, a member of the socialist bloc of the Chamber of Deputies which supports President Aristide, reportedly was killed because he was planning to hold a political meeting. In the preceding three days, soldiers had set fire to some fifty houses in the northern town of Plaisance, including the home of the town's legislator, Deputy Jean Mandenave, and slaughtered livestock; and had reportedly shot and killed two Aristide supporters and burned down some thirty houses in a town near Desdunes in the Artibonite Valley.1 The alleged killer of Deputy Charles, section chief Pierre Elium, reportedly turned himself in to the authorities on December 17, and confessed to the killing.
Other leading Aristide supporters have been arbitrarily arrested and sometimes savagely beaten by soldiers. They include popular musician Manno Charlemagne and prominent businessman Antoine Izmery. Since their release, they have been forced into hiding. The army also has been responsible for countless raids on homes and offices of those deemed to be opponents of the military regime, including members of President Aristide's cabinet. The homes or offices of Minister of Information Marie Laurence Lassègue, Minister of Finance Marie-Michèle Rey, and Minister of Planning Renaud Bernadin, among many others, have been attacked, forcing these individuals, too, into hiding.
The army has targeted popular organizations throughout the country such as the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), the Kombit Komilfo, the Labadie Youth Movement, the Planters' Defense Group of the Artibonite, the Autonomous Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH), the literacy project ALPHA, the Movement of Young Peasants of Lascahobas, the September 17 Popular Organization, KONAKOM and CARITAS, as well as organizations closely identified with President Aristide, such as the National Front for Change and Democracy, the popular ti legliz Catholic church movement, and the boys' shelter Lafanmi Selavi. Members of these organizations have been threatened, arrested or forced into hiding after their offices were raided and destroyed by soldiers.
Most recently, three union activists and a peasant leader were arrested by the police on December 17. Duckens Rafael, general secretary of the state electric company's union, along with fellow union officials Abel Point Dujour and Evans Fortune, reportedly were arrested while attempting to collect paychecks for workers fired since the coup. The police also arrested Dieudonné Jean-Baptiste, an MPP supporter and brother of one of Haiti's leading peasant activists, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the head of MPP. He is reportedly being held in police headquarters in Port-au-Prince.
In the southeastern city of Jérémie in October and in the northeastern city of Gonaïves in November, soldiers disrupted demonstrations by Aristide supporters, shooting into crowds or into the air on several occasions. Demostrations against the military regime have been officially prohibited.
The press has been systematically silenced. The army quickly took aim at Haiti's numerous independent radio stations, arresting journalists, shooting at stations and destroying equipment. Radio Antilles Internationale, Radio Cacique, Radio Caraïbes, Radio Haïti Internationale, Radio Lumière and Radio Métropole all have been attacked and most have been forced to cease broadcasting. Journalists who have been arrested since the coup include Herald Gabiliste, Jean-Pierre Louis and Paul Jean-Mario of Radio Antilles; Frère Roday and a reporter known as Philiare of Radio Cacique; Miché Sully of Radio Galaxie; Michel Favard and Nicolas Sorenville of Radio Nationale; Fernand Billon of Radio Soleil; Masner Beauplan of Collectif Kiskeya in Hinche; and Jean-Robert Philippe of the Voice of America. Other journalists have been physically assaulted or threatened by soldiers, or denounced on the reconstituted state-run Radio Nationale, including Thony Belizaire of Agence France-Presse; Sony Bastien and Lylianne Pierre Paul of Collectif Kiskeya; Jean-Laurent of Radio Plus and an officer of the Association of Haitian Journalists; Edwidge Balutansky of Reuters; and Marvel Dandin of Radio Haïti-Inter. Paul Jean-Mario was badly tortured in the Petit Goâve military post and remains in detention.
The dead body of one journalist, Jacques Gary Siméon of Radio Caraïbe, was found shortly after his arrest by soldiers on the first day of the coup. On December 10, Felix Lamy, director of Radio Galaxie, was abducted from the radio station by heavily armed soldiers who also beat up two employees, shot at the station and destroyed equipment. The military government has denied responsibility for the abduction and Lamy's whereabouts are unknown. After this most recent attack, the last three independent radio stations broadcasting news _ Radio Galaxie, along with Radio Métropole and Radio Tropic FM _ ceased operations.
On November 12, between 100 and 150 students were arrested after the Federation of Haitian Students (FENEH), together with members of various popular organizations, held a press conference to support the OAS's call for immediate and unconditional restoration of President Aristide and to back its embargo against the military regime. The press conference was held the day after an OAS delegation arrived in Port-au-Prince to meet with members of the regime. The students' gathering was violently disrupted even as anti-Aristide demonstrations by Haiti's economic elite were allowed to take place elsewhere in Port-au-Prince. Several truckloads of heavily armed soldiers stormed the Science Faculty building at the State University of Haiti, where the press conference was held, and clubbed and arrested students and journalists. Some eight journalists were arrested and have since been released. Their equipment was destroyed and some had their press cards confiscated. One group of students was taken to the National Penitentiary and another group to the Anti-Gang Police Service detention center. Some were eventually transferred to the "Cafeteria" police station. Many of the students were badly beaten while in detention, according to several among them. After a court ordered all the students released, most were eventually freed. However, the army has refused to comply fully with the court order and at least forty are said by their lawyers and reputable Haitian human rights groups to remain imprisoned. The state-run Radio Nationale has denounced the students as "déchoukeurs" (lynch mobs), "thieves" and "drug-addicts."
Two additional killings occurred in the first hours of the coup. Sylvio Claude, a prominent politician and critic of President Aristide who had just given an anti-Aristide speech, was killed on September 29, the night before the president was ousted from the country, as the coup was underway. He was murdered in the area of Les Cayes, a city in the south, but there are conflicting reports of how he died. By one account, a crowd of Aristide supporters killed him after learning that a coup was in progress; by this account, soldiers may have tried to stop the crowd but retreated, fearing for their own lives. By another account, he was killed by soldiers in a military post under orders to eliminate this formerly popular politician as a player in post-coup Haiti.
The second killing involved Roger Lafontant, the convicted coup-plotter who was serving a term of life in prison. He was shot in his cell in the National Penitentiary on September 29. The current military government alleges that President Aristide ordered the killing. President Aristide's minister of planning, Renaud Bernardin, has alleged that it was probably a coup collaborator who killed Lafantont to prevent his emergence as a rival for power after the military takeover. Some of the other participants in the January coup attempt who had been convicted with Lafontant were freed or allowed to escape in the chaos provoked by the Lafontant shooting.
The Right to Monitor
Haitian human rights groups and international human rights organizations were allowed freely to monitor human rights violations under the Aristide government. Jean-Jacques Honorat, the civilian figurehead of the subsequent army-installed regime, complained that while President Aristide was in office, at a time when Honorat still headed the Haitian Center for Human Rights (CHADEL), he received threatening telephone calls. Throughout the period of the Aristide government, CHADEL issued a monthly newsletter on human rights in Haiti and received access to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. The threats may have been prompted by CHADEL's public stance against the popular intimidation of lawyers seeking to represent those accused of participating in the January coup attempt, as well as CHADEL's criticisms of serious due process violations at the trial of the alleged plotters, including sentences in excess of the legal maximum because of threats against the court by a crowd outside.
Under the de facto Honorat government, however, it has become very dangerous for Haiti's leading activists to continue to report on human rights. On October 2, three days after the coup, the Reuters news agency cited unnamed diplomatic sources to report that "troops were going door-to-door searching for aides to Aristide, cabinet ministers and human rights activists named on arrest warrants." Some human rights activists have fled the country or been forced into hiding. Others continue to monitor human rights under the military regime with extreme discretion.
Virginie Sénatus, head of the women's section of the Lafontant Joseph Center for the Promotion of Human Rights, was arrested on November 12 at the FENEH university students' press conference described above. Since then, Raynand Pierre, director of the Center; Loby Gratia, head of publications; and other members of the organization have been forced into hiding.
A member of the Platform of Haitian Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights was prevented from traveling outside the country on October 25 because his name appeared on a list at the international airport. The list, which he was shown, contained an estimated two hundred names. One other name he recognized was of a member of the FENEH student organization.
The Legal Assistance Group (GAJ), a member organization of the Platform coalition based in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, has also been targeted. On October 1, the home of GAJ member Joseph Fernel Manigat was shot at and ransacked by soldiers, and some of his belongings were burned. Soldiers also stole equipment from the GAJ office.
The United States wields considerable political and economic influence in Haiti. By and large over the last two years, the Bush Administration has used its influence to promote respect for human rights in Haiti, but the refugee crisis sparked by the September 1991 coup has given rise to disturbing indications that the Administration has subordinated the promotion of human rights in Haiti to the goal of stemming the flow of refugees to the United States.
The Administration's strong insistence on peaceful, democratic elections in 1990 was an essential element in the success of the December elections that brought President Aristide to power with the support of over sixty-five percent of the large number of voters who cast ballots. Speaking as head of the Administration's election-monitoring team, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Bernard Aronson extended swift recognition to Aristide as the overwhelming victor, signaling to the army that Washington was intent on seeing the election results respected. The Administration was equally firm in denouncing the January 1991 coup attempt. Shortly after Aristide's inauguration on February 7, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that it would provide over $80 million in assistance for fiscal year 1991, some $28 million more than the previous year.
In mid-August 1991, Vice President Dan Quayle visited Haiti at the end of a four-nation Latin American tour. He praised Haiti's progress toward democracy and promised increased U.S. assistance the following year. The vice president also signed two economic cooperation agreements with the Haitian government: one committing $9 million in technical support for public administration, the other granting $250,000 for anti-drug efforts.
Since the September coup, the Bush Administration generally has been forceful in its support for and continued recognition of President Aristide as the sole legitimate Haitian head of state. Statements condemning the coup were issued immediately by the U.S. Embassy and the State Department on September 30. On October 1, the day after the coup, in an important symbolic gesture, President Bush accepted the credentials of President Aristide's appointed ambassador to Washington, Jean Casimir, who had been a leading figure on the electoral council that organized the December 1990 election. President Bush told Ambassador Casimir that "despite the events of the last two days, the United States continues to recognize President Aristide as duly elected president of Haiti," according to a statement released by the White House. "We condemn those who have attacked the legally constituted democratically elected government of Haiti, and call for an immediate halt to violence, and the restoration of democracy in Haiti. We will be working closely with the OAS to bring that about," the White House statement read.
On October 2, in an emergency OAS meeting, Secretary of State James Baker condemned the coup in strong terms, saying that the United States "demand[s] the immediate restoration of President Aristide's constitutional rule. We have suspended all foreign assistance to Haiti. We do not and we will not recognize this outlaw regime." He added: "This junta is illegitimate. It has no standing in the democratic community. Until President Aristide's government is restored, this junta will be treated as a pariah throughout this hemisphere _ without assistance, without friends and without a future." He concluded, "this coup must not and will not succeed."2
The suspended aid to which Secretary Baker referred included $66 million of the $85.5 million aid package for Haiti for fiscal year 1991 that had not been disbursed _ $84 million in economic and food aid and $1.5 million in nonlethal military aid. Also suspended was the Administration's pending request for fiscal year 1992 of $90.8 million, including $88.6 million in economic and food aid and $2.2 million in nonlethal military aid. On October 4, the Administration froze all Haitian government assets in the United States.
One week into the coup, however, the Bush Administration began to send mixed signals on Haiti, in contrast to its initial solid support for the deposed president. The New York Times reported that U.S. officials were "mov[ing] away from the unequivocal support they have voiced for the ousted Haitian President...citing concerns over his human rights record." According to the Times, "While strongly criticizing the Haitian military for carrying out the coup, these [Administration] officials now concede that Father Aristide's condoning and even encouragement of vigilante justice by mobs of his supporters in the streets has jeopardized his moral authority and popularity."3
The Administration was justified in criticizing President Aristide for his posture toward the political intimidation of his opponents as well as the two acts of intimidation against the Haitian parliament and judicial system committed during his seven months in office. However, since these abuses paled in light of the utter brutality and wholesale disregard for human rights and democratic institutions shown by the successor military regime, the major reappraisal of U.S. policy that was briefly hinted was less understandable.
In fact, whatever reassessment of U.S. policy was considered quickly gave way to a reaffirmation of a pro-Aristide position. Responding on October 7 to questions from reporters about the Administration's support for Aristide, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated: "The responsibility of constitutionally elected leaders to safeguard human rights is one thing, but any problems in the human rights situation can't be resolved by overthrowing a democratically elected government."
Thereafter, the Bush Administration took additional steps to isolate the military junta. On October 29, it suspended all trade with Haiti, excluding basic foods and medicines and commercial flights, and ordered home all nonessential U.S. government employees and their dependents. According to Secretary Aronson, the U.S. trade cutoff meant a loss for Haiti of sixty-five percent of its imports and eighty-five percent of its exports. U.S. imports from Haiti in 1990 had amounted to $339 million and U.S. exports to the country had totaled $447 million.
In November, the State Department rejected the military government's proposal to hold new national elections on January 5, 1992. With Aristide supporters and popular organizations under continuing violent attack and President Aristide barred from returning to the country, the balloting would have been a meaningless exercise. Instead, the Administration reiterated its support for OAS efforts to negotiate a return to constitutional rule.
U.S. Ambassador to Port-au-Prince Alvin Adams is said to have played an important role in saving President Aristide's life on the day of the coup _ negotiating his release from arrest and escorting him to the airport on his way into exile. Ambassador Adams also issued a strong statement on October 24 condemning human rights violations since the coup. He cited the arrest of prominent Aristide supporters Evans Paul, Manno Charlemagne and Antoine Izmery, indiscriminate killing, warrantless raids on private homes and radio stations, police harassment, and mistreatment "in the custody of Haiti's de facto authorities."
The Bush Administration's position on refugees fleeing the country is considerably less supportive of Haitians' human rights. The Administration insists that most of the Haitian refugees are fleeing economic conditions rather than political persecution,4 despite the widespread arrests, beatings and killings of Aristide supporters and perceived opponents of military rule, and the Administration's appropriate refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the lawless and brutal military regime. Pursuant to an agreement reached between the Reagan Administration and former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, the U.S. Coast Guard has continued to interdict Haitians fleeing by boat and, after cursory interviews by immigration officials aboard Coast Guard cutters, forcibly returned them to Haiti.
Some 538 Haitian refugees had been forcibly repatriated since the coup when, on November 19, U.S. District Judge Clyde Atkins ordered a temporary halt to the practice. He reaffirmed his decision on December 3 by issuing a preliminary injunction, basing his decision on the finding that if the refugees were sent back they would face "loss of liberty or death at the hands of Haiti's military on account of [their] political beliefs."5 The Bush Administration made vigorous efforts to reverse the injunction, including the unusual decision to call on Solicitor General Kenneth Starr to argue a case in the lower federal courts. The Administration argued principally that the refugees had no right to challenge the repatriations in U.S. court because, in the Administration's view, the international prohibition against refoulement (the sending of an individual to a land where he or she is likely to face political persecution) does not apply until the refugee has entered U.S. territory. This narrow view of the law ignored the Coast Guard's role in preventing the Haitian refugees from reaching U.S. soil, where the prohibition against refoulement clearly does apply. It also contradicted an August 11, 1981 opinion of Assistant Attorney General Theodore Olson, head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which cited the principle of refoulement as giving protection to interdicted Haitians. On December 17, however, a federal appeals court endorsed this argument and lifted the injunction. A new restraining order was promptly imposed by Judge Atkins but once again reversed by the appeals court on December 19.
At the same time as the Administration was contesting the injunction, the Coast Guard began holding what quickly became some 7,400 refugees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba.6 The effect was to deny the Haitians easy access to legal counsel to prepare asylum claims or the benefit of a hearing of their claims by an immigration judge rather than a low-level immigration official. Even under these conditions, 1,012 Haitians were found by December 17 to have plausible asylum cases, allowing them to be brought to the United States to pursue their claims with the assistance of counsel and full procedural rights.
The Administration's efforts to halt the flight of Haitian refugees appears to have colored its human rights advocacy in Haiti. Haitians began fleeing by boat in large numbers approximately one month after the coup, as widescale acts of political violence continued and the prospect of President Aristide's quick return to office dimmed. At the same time, the Administration stopped publicly criticizing human rights abuses under the military regime. Following Ambassador Adams's October 24 statement described above, and the October 29 imposition of sanctions, no public denunciation of abuses was made by the State Department or the U.S. Embassy. The timing of the sudden silence left the impression that the Administration was more concerned with avoiding lending support to the growing number of Haitians claiming to be fleeing political persecution _ or prejudicing the court case challenging interdiction _ than with pressing the military regime to stop the violence and killing.
We recognize that one element in this sudden silence may have been the U.S. Embassy's diminished capacity to monitor the human rights situation. With Embassy staff reduced to "essential" personnel out of concern for their safety, an Embassy official told our investigative mission in December that the Embassy lacked the capacity to investigate human rights violations and was dependent on reports of abuses received from others. This diminished capacity to monitor the human rights situation calls into question assurances repeatedly given by the Administration that Haitians, if forcibly repatriated, would not face political persecution. Indeed, the decision to define Embassy personnel assigned to monitor human rights as "nonessential" suggests that the Administration may not have wanted to know the full extent of political persecution in Haiti for fear of compromising its defense of interdiction.
Moreover, subsequent developments suggest that the Administration may be allowing fear of an influx of Haitian refugees to influence the veracity of its human rights reporting. On December 13, the State Department's Office of Asylum Affairs _ part of the Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs _ issued its first opinion on human rights conditions in Haiti since the coup. The opinion is important because it is used by asylum adjudicators in assessing Haitian claims to be fleeing political persecution. The opinion flies in the face of extensive evidence of ongoing persecution of perceived military opponents and Aristide supporters, including the cases of persecution cited above, by asserting: "[A]t this time we have no reason to believe that mere identification of an individual as an Aristide supporter puts that individual at particular risk of mistreatment or abuse."
The State Department opinion also claimed: "There is no indication that persons returned [to Haiti] by the U.S. under the interdiction program are detained or subject to punishment by Haitian authorities."7 As noted, such a statement is suspect in any event in light of the Embassy's diminished capacity to monitor even the general human rights situation in Haiti, let alone to engage in the difficult task of tracing returned Haitians to ensure that they have not suffered persecution as a result of their flight. More important, the statement is inconsistent with the interest shown by Haitian soldiers in the political activities of returning Haitians, as detailed in a State Department cable describing the December 3 voluntary return to Haiti of seventy-three Haitians who had fled by boat and, after interdiction, been housed temporarily in Venezuela. According to the cable, soldiers rather than customs officials questioned the returning Haitians and thoroughly searched their persons and luggage. The cable recounted: "Soldiers told Embassy staff they were looking for 'everything' and that they read repatriates' letters and papers to find anything 'compromising.' Repatriates reported [that soldiers] questioned them to determine whether they are politically active." The cable describes the repatriates then being taken to police headquarters before, according to the police, being released.
Other International Actors
The OAS has been at the forefront of international efforts to restore President Aristide to office. It reacted swiftly and vigorously to the September military coup, pursuant to a resolution adopted by the OAS General Assembly the previous June requiring immediate consultations among governments if any elected government in the hemisphere is forcibly overthrown. On September 30, the day of the coup, the Permanent Council of the OAS, responding to "the grave events that have taken place in Haiti and that represent an abrupt, violent and irregular interruption of the legitimate exercise of power by the democratic government of that country," issued "its most vigorous condemnation of those events and of their perpetrators" and demanded "adherence to the Constitution and respect for the Government, which was legitimately established through the free expression of the will of that country's people." The OAS also
deplore[d] the loss of human lives;...demand[ed] that those responsible be punished; and... [insisted] that, in strict observance of international law, those parties put an end to the violation of the Haitian people's rights, respect the life and physical safety of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and restore the President's exercise of his constitutional authority.
The OAS invited President Aristide to speak to it in Washington on October 2.
Pursuant to an OAS resolution, a hemisphere-wide economic embargo was imposed pending the re-establishment of the Aristide government. OAS delegates have literally risked their lives while attempting to negotiate with the military regime. On October 7, when an OAS delegation was meeting in a room at the Port-au-Prince airport with General Raoul Cédras, head of the military junta, heavily armed soldiers burst in and disrupted the discussions. The OAS delegation quickly fled the country.
In the first week of December, the OAS sent a mission to Haiti to investigate human rights violations since the coup. A statement issued a week earlier by the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed alarm that an estimated 1,500 people may have been killed since the coup.
The United Nations General Assembly also condemned the coup in a resolution adopted on October 11. The resolution called for the restoration of President Aristide and appealed to member states to take measures in support of OAS resolutions on Haiti.
In November, French Ambassador to Port-au-Prince Rafael Dufour was recalled to Paris under intimidation by the Haitian military regime for refusing to disclose the names of those who had sought refuge in the French Embassy. He, too, played an important role in ensuring President Aristide's physical safety on September 30 by riding with him in a vehicle from the president's besieged residence to the downtown palace and helping to arrange his safe passage out of the country. Until his expulsion, Ambassador Dufour was among the most outspoken critics of the military regime, despite army attacks on his residence, including the cutting off of telephone service, electricity and running water to the building, where prominent supporters of Aristide and members of his government are believed to have sought protection. France has suspended $36 million in foreign aid to Haiti.
Canada and Venezuela, among Haiti's top aid donors, as well as the European Community and the World Bank, also suspended their aid programs in the days following the coup.
The Work of Americas Watch
Americas Watch continues to cooperate closely with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees (NCHR) in its work on Haiti. In November, the two organizations published our twelfth report on Haiti since 1983, the fourth issued together with Caribbean Rights. The report, Haiti: The Aristide Government's Human Rights Record, was based on five fact-finding missions to Haiti between February and September 1991. In preparation at the time of the September 30 coup, the report was released one month later to address the growing controversy over President Aristide's human rights record. The report set forth the positive and negative aspects of President Aristide's human rights policy, while stressing that even the worst of the president's failings did not begin to compare with the large-scale atrocities committed by his military successors.
Since the coup, Americas Watch and the NCHR issued several press releases condemning the army's actions and criticizing human rights abuses. Two representatives from the organizations, together with a representative of Physicians for Human Rights, undertook a fact-finding mission to Haiti in early December to document human rights violations under the military regime. A report of the mission's findings, Return to the Darkest Days: Human Rights in Haiti Since the Coup, was released in late December.
Americas Watch has also spoken out on several occasions, including in the December report, in opposition to the Bush Administration's efforts to force Haitian refugees to return to Haiti under the violent regime in Port-au-Prince.
"Army Promises Inquiry into Slaying of Pro-Aristide Legislator," Associated Press, December 16, 1991.
As reported in the State Department's Dispatch, October 7, 1991.
Clifford Krauss, "In Policy Shift, U.S. Criticizes Haitian on Rights Abuses," October 7, 1991.
See, e.g., statement of State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler at press briefing on November 20, 1991.
Will Lester, "Judge Extends Ban on Return of Haitian Boat People," Associated Press, December 4, 1991.
By contrast, only 1,351 Haitians fled the country during President Aristide's seven-month tenure, according to State Department spokeswoman Tutwiler on December 3, 1991.
A similar theme was sounded by State Department spokesman Boucher on November 18 and spokeswoman Tutwiler on November 21, 1991.