Human Rights Developments
In 1992, the military junta that overthrew freely elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on September 30, 1991 continued to rule Haiti through violent repression. Well over 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed by the army since the coup, and all forms of popular organization have been ruthlessly suppressed. Haitians today are living under the most acute terror since the darkest days of the Duvalier dictatorship.
In a country where only nine months before the coup, 67 percent of voters cast their lot with Father Aristide, the majority of the population is presumed hostile to the military authorities. Seeking to avoid the kind of popular unrest that brought down past military regimes, the army-from the generals heading the governing junta, to the section chiefs wreaking havoc in the most remote country hamlets-has attempted to eviscerate all civic, popular and professional organizations opposed to its authoritarian rule. The military junta has banned meetings throughout Haiti's nine departments. All signs of public protest are swiftly and violently repressed. Widespread, short-term detention serves successfully to intimidate and subdue. During detention, beatings are the rule rather than the exception. Almost all arrests are warrantless.
Section chiefs, the notoriously corrupt and brutal rural military overlords, have been reinstated, reversing the steps that President Aristide had taken to abolish their positions. Soldiers and section chiefs prey on their victims, demanding payment to avoid detention or torture. Those in hiding for fear of army oppression are told that they may return to their homes if they pay a fee. At military checkpoints, soldiers can shake down virtually anyone who dares travel the roads. All of this occurs with absolute impunity.
In 1992, the army targeted prominent critics of the de facto regime and well known Aristide supporters. For example:
· Gunmen believed to be members of the Anti-Gang Investigations Service of the Port-au-Prince Police (Anti-Gang), a branch of the army, broke up a political meeting on January 25, and shot and killed Yves Jean-Pierre, the bodyguard of René Theodore, leader of the centrist Haitian Communist Party. Theodore was being considered for the post of prime minister in negotiations brokered by the Organization of American States (oas) that led to an accord a month later.
· On May 26, Georges Izmery, a businessman and the brother of Antoine Izmery, one of President Aristide's most vocal supporters andhis wealthiest financial backer, was killed by unknown assailants. The next week, police attacked the funeral procession, beating mourners who were chanting pro-Aristide slogans and arresting as many as ten.
· Jackson Bien-Aimé, Mayor of Cerca Carvajal in the Central Plateau, was arrested and held in prison overnight in December 1991 and released after the local bishop intervened. Elected on the ticket of the National Front for Change and Democracy (fncd), President Aristide's movement, Bien-Aimé was arrested again in February 1992 and, after a beating, was released the same day.
If the de facto regime has been uninhibited about terrorizing well known Haitian figures, its campaign against the rest of Haiti's civil society, which had grown rapidly following the downfall of the Duvalier regime in 1986, has been systematic and ruthless. On the first day of the coup, ten radio stations were destroyed or shut down. Radio is by far the most important news medium in the country. By the end of 1992, only two of those stations, Radio Lumière and Radio Caraïbes, had resumed broadcasting. The eight that remain closed are Radio Cacique, Radio Tèt Ansanm, Radio Antilles, Radio Haïti Inter, Radio Port-au-Prince, Radio Galaxie, Radio Plus and Radio Voix du Nord. Only 8 of 15 Port-au-Prince radio stations are broadcasting news, and they restrict themselves to topics that are not offensive to the regime. Outside the capital, journalists have been intimidated, arrested and beaten by section chiefs. Few correspondents are still working in the countryside; those who are limit themselves to pro-government or noncontroversial reporting. Journalists who have faced retaliation for their professional activities include the following:
· Sony Estéus, a reporter for Radio Tropic FM, was arrested by plainclothes police while covering a religious ceremony that turned into a pro-Aristide rally in Port-au-Prince on April 12. He was held for five hours in the Anti-Gang detention center, where he was forced to lie on his stomach while he was beaten with sticks on his back and buttocks. He suffered fractures in his left arm and middle finger and sustained head injuries.
· On May 22, Voice of America correspondent Guy Delva was attacked while he covered an anti-government student demonstration in Port-au-Prince. Four men in civilian clothing accused him of advocating the return of Aristide and one of them beat him with a rifle butt.
Military violence has been aimed at pro-Aristide elected officials, rural development or peasant organizations, neighborhood or community associations, trade unions, and literacy, pro-democracy, students' and women's groups. This violence has thwarted the ability of many groups to meet openly or to meet at all. Leaders and members of these organizations have been hunted down and arrested, tortured or killed by soldiers and section chiefs. For example:
· Members of the Tèt Kole (Heads Together) national peasant movement in Beauchamp in the northwest have been viciously and deliberately persecuted. In one gruesome yet not unusual incident, the local section chief in Beauchamp, Jean-Baptiste, filled the mouth of a 70-year-old Tèt Kole member with rocks and clapped his hands together on the man's face, knocking out his remaining teeth. The same section chief beat and tortured two other Tèt Kole members in his home in the "djak" position, in which the hands are tied together, the knees are pushed up, and a stick is wedged between the arms and legs in a forced fetal position. Tèt Kole member Elicier Jean of Beauchamp was badly beaten by several section chiefs and deputies in February, and died a week later of his wounds.
· The Papaye Peasant Movement (mpp), an organization that supports self-help agricultural cooperatives, has virtually ceased all activities. Its headquarters in Papaye in the Central Plateau were looted and destroyed on October 1, 1991, and its members have been targeted since the first days of the coup.
· In May and June 1992, numerous demonstrations by high school and university students in support of deposed President Aristide were violently suppressed by the Haitian army. Prohibited by the military authorities from staging protests in the streets, the students held demonstrations in their classrooms and schoolyards, only to face gunfire, beatings, arrests, and tear gas. In one incident, Professor Camille Chalmers was arrested along with seven or eight students on May 20, when soldiers stormed the Faculty of Human Sciences. He was tortured in the Anti-Gang detention center in Port-au-Prince. Five soldiers repeatedly beat him with the butts of rifles and a metal chair. The soldiers boxed his ears and beat him with fists. The studentsreportedly were not beaten in detention. They were all released two hours later.
· On July 15, as de facto Prime Minister Marc Bazin was being sworn into office, soldiers attacked an anti-regime student demonstration at the medical school, shooting, beating and arresting dozens of students.
· Following a wave of armed attacks on soldiers in the capital in late July, army roadblocks were set up throughout Port-au-Prince. On August 3, Robinson Joseph, a school teacher and former news editor of Radio Lumière, was killed by two bullets to the head by a uniformed police officer at a roadblock, reportedly as he backed his car away to avoid the long line of cars that had formed.
The Catholic Church has come under fierce attack since the coup. Priests and nuns, especially those suspected of being supporters of President Aristide or who are active in peasant organizing, community development or monitoring human rights, have been threatened, arrested and beaten. Protestant churches and groups that have become strongly identified with social activism and development have also been attacked.
A September 1992 human rights report by the Karl Leveque Center lists over 75 religious workers who have been victims of military repression since the coup. Of the 42 priests included in this list, eight were arrested, three were beaten, ten were forced to abandon their parishes due to threats, 14 were pressured or threatened by armed soldiers during mass, and six had their churches searched.
The Right to Monitor
That a number of human rights monitoring groups have been able to continue to function is more a tribute to their courage and persistence than to any tolerance on the part of the junta. At the end of 1991, human rights monitors were among the first victims of the military regime, facing arrests, assaults, threats and intimidation.
Msgr. Willy Romulus, Bishop of Jérémie and President of the Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission, had his home searched and ransacked by soldiers on August 17, 1992. On September 20, he was briefly detained at a military roadblock upon returning from a trip abroad, and was verbally assaulted and harassed at military roadblocks over the next several days. On September 24, he was threatened with death by a soldier and four armed, plainclothes men who went looking for him at a parish house in nearby Les Irois where he was spending the night.
Other members of the Justice and Peace Commission were similarly persecuted. On June 6, soldiers arrested Father Gilles Danroc, the Coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission and a French national. Father Danroc was arrested along with 14 laypersons who were holding a religious meeting in La Chapelle that the soldiers claimed was "prohibited," even though Father Danroc had previously advised the local magistrate of the meeting. Father Danroc was accused of being a "Lavalas communist" ("Lavalas" is the name of President Aristide's political movement).
Although he wished to remain with the other detainees, Danroc was released under pressure the following day, after being led to believe that the others, including a pregnant woman, would be beaten if he insisted on staying. They were then tortured anyway in the office of the major in charge of the St. Marc military jail. They were forced to lean against the wall on their toes, supported only by their fingers, and beaten with clubs on the back and buttocks. They were also beaten on the soles of their feet. They were released on June 7.
The U.S. commitment to the return to power of the Aristide government seemed to soften throughout 1992, while efforts to stem the flow of Haitian boat people intensified. To justify the forcible return of many and ultimately all of the boat people, the Bush administration repeatedly minimized the human rights catastrophe in Haiti. Although the administration formally supported the initiatives of the Organization of American States, including by adopting a trade embargo directed against the military regime, it failed to use its considerable influence in Haiti to back oas initiatives, to call for an end to the ongoing violent abuses, or to press for the reinstatement of President Aristide.
The Bush administration's treatment of Haitian boat people is by far the most troubling element of its human rights policy toward Haiti. Pursuant to an agreement reached between the Reagan administration and former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, the U.S. Coast Guard continued to interdict Haitian boat people in the aftermath of the coup. In November 1991, a federal court in Miami issued an injunction blocking the further return of Haitian refugees because of deficient screening procedures that had determined only 3 percent of those interviewed to be potential political refugees. Boat people thus were collected at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba, where screening proceeded in a more deliberative atmosphere. The result, coupled with improved training of adjudicators by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and a conscious effort to break the State Department's monopoly on the information reaching them, substantially improved the quality of screening interviews. By early January, INS sources indicated that 70 percent of new arrivals at Guantánamo were found to have a "credible fear of persecution" if returned to Haiti. Repatriations of "screened-out" Haitians began again on February 3, 1992 when the Supreme Court lifted the stay that had been imposed by the federal judge in November 1991. Over the next six weeks, nearly 8,000 boat people were returned to Haiti.
When Coast Guard cutters carrying the repatriates reached the dock in Port-au-Prince, they turned over to the Haitian authorities the ships' manifests containing the name, age and hometown of each returnee. Many if not most of the returnees were fingerprinted and some were photographed by Haitian military officials.
Flight from Haiti continued at high levels during the spring as the Haitian military consolidated its rule. Toward the end of May, the population at Guantánamo reached what the administration said was capacity-12,000 residents. On May 24, President Bush issued Executive Order 12807 which ended all screening of Haitians intercepted on the high seas. Under the new order, all boat people intercepted at sea began to be returned directly to Haiti regardless of claims that they would face persecution, in direct violation of the principle of nonrefoulement-the international legal principle that forbids the return of an individual to the country where he or she faces a well-founded fear of persecution. This stood in contrast even to the 1981 executive order that had launched the Haitian interdiction operation, which had guaranteed, if only in writing, that "no person who is a refugee will be returned without his consent." The new order also made explicit the administration's position that U.S. international legal obligations under the U.N. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees "do not extend to persons located outside the territory of the United States."
The administration's interpretation of the Protocol's prohibition on forced return of refugees is at odds with the great weight of international legal authority and the opinion of refugee experts-including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees-and has been challenged in the U.S. courts by refugee advocates. The issue is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has accepted the administration's appeal of a July 29, 1992 decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The majority in the Second Circuit had found that the "plain language" of the Immigration and Nationality Act indicated that its prohibition on forced return of refugees applied to U.S. agents on the high seas as well as those within the United States.
Since President Bush's May 24 executive order, Haitians seeking refuge in the U.S. have had only one option-to apply to the In-Country Refugee Processing program in Port-au-Prince. Until October 1992, would-be refugees had to apply at the U.S. consulate. Since then, the embassy has contracted the International Organization for Migration, a nongovernmental organization, to undertake the refugee processing in offices outside the consulate, in the Banque National de Paris. The program has established such a high threshold for approval and requires such extensive documentary proof from would-be refugees that few Haitians qualify. Since the program's inception in February through November 13, only 253 of the more than 2,560 who have been adjudicated out of some 6,000 applicants had been conditionally accepted; 97 of these are pending the results of medical examinations. Many if not most have already experienced arrest or beatings by the military. Those who cannot show such actual persecution are routinely turned down. For those in hiding who are reluctant to travel to Port-au-Prince, the consular officials theoretically will consider traveling to them on a case-by-case basis.
Although the U.S. accepts refugees through in-country programs in Cuba, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union, it has never made it the exclusive option for persecuted individuals from these countries. Given the stark contrast in the results of the screeningin Port-au-Prince and Guantánamo, the in-country processing does not vitiate the clear violation of the principle of nonrefoulement inherent in the summary repatriation ordered by President Bush.
The administration also has tried to justify summary repatriation by claiming that no repatriate has faced persecution. The basis for this claim is State Department and INS surveys conducted of some 2,500 repatriates before screening ended. These surveys were deeply flawed since, whether by design or negligence, they excluded repatriates with the greatest risk of persecution-the class of Haitians who were being "screened in" at Guantánamo at the time the surveys were conducted but thereafter would be summarily returned to Haiti, and those who, having been returned to Haiti after being "screened out," were too fearful to meet with U.S. investigators. Even those who were willing to be included in the surveys were often interviewed publicly, at times in the presence of soldiers, in circumstances that strongly discouraged them from describing the persecution they face.
The conclusions reached by the State Department and the INS notwithstanding, many Haitian refugees have been arrested, imprisoned or otherwise persecuted after being returned to Haiti. Reports of persecution of refugees fall into several categories. Many "double-backers"-Haitians who set to sea a second time after being returned by the Coast Guard-have reported retaliation by Haitian authorities for having fled. INS officials in Guantánamo found some of these stories so persuasive that they admitted such Haitians to the United States.
The best-documented story of persecution of returnees is the case of 154 people who were arrested by Haitian police on August 14, shortly after being repatriated by the U.S. Coast Guard. An Associated Press report said the "roundup took place minutes after the U.S. cutter Confidence dropped off the Haitians at a Port-au-Prince dock." According to the Haitian police, the repatriates were questioned about the reported hijacking of the boat in which they had been attempting to flee. Police the next day said that all but six had been released. An August 25 report noted that one was still in police custody.
Americas Watch believes that arresting entire boatloads of people for questioning amounts to penalizing people for leaving Haiti. By forcibly returning Haitians without screening for possible refugees, the United States becomes complicit in such practices.
Several bills seeking to address the plight of Haitian refugees were introduced in Congress in 1991 and 1992. These ranged from one granting Temporary Protective Status to all Haitians interdicted by the Coast Guard, thus granting them temporary admission to the United States, to another that would have required U.S. officials to show that returnees would not face persecution before forcibly returning them. None has attracted broad support.
Apparently to avoid contradicting its dubious assertions that summarily returned boat people face no danger in Haiti, the administration has shied away from the strong public criticisms of abuses in Haiti that had characterized its initial response to the coup-until the boat people started fleeing a month later. Still, when army violence has threatened diplomatic efforts to resolve thepolitical crisis in Haiti, the Bush administration has spoken out. Its strongest reaction came at the beginning of 1992 in response to the above-described police attack on a political meeting and the killing of Yves Jean-Pierre, the bodyguard of René Theodore, who was being considered for the post of prime minister in oas-brokered negotiations. State Department spokesman Joe Snyder read the following statement at a press briefing on January 27:
Those who have taken power in Haiti have claimed that they support a return to democratic rule. However, Saturday's brutal attack on a peaceful political meeting does nothing but impede the restoration of constitutional rule. The regime should know that restoring democracy is the only way to end Haiti's political and economic isolation. In response to this event we will recall our Ambassador to Washington to discuss its implications for U.S. policy. We call on the Haitian army and the de facto government to bring to justice those who are responsible for this crime.
The ambassador returned to Haiti in February, as the oas-brokered negotiations reached an accord.
On August 19, while a high-level oas delegation was in Haiti, the bullet-riddled bodies of three Aristide supporters were found at a Port-au-Prince hospital morgue. They had been arrested two days earlier for hanging Aristide posters. The U.S. embassy released a statement in response saying that it had received "credible reports of blind killing, harassment, illegal searches, arrests without warrant, unjustified detention, and mistreatment of prisoners....It is the responsibility of Haitian authorities to condemn these assassinations, to act promptly to initiate a thorough investigation, and to bring the guilty to justice."
In the immediate aftermath of the September 1991 coup, the Bush administration reacted swiftly with a number of forceful statements, symbolic gestures, and concrete actions, including the suspension of all government-to-government assistance and trade with Haiti as part of the oas-imposed hemisphere-wide economic embargo. The administration also froze all Haitian government assets in the United States. Only humanitarian assistance, essential foods and medicines were exempted from the embargo.
The embargo has been a blunt instrument. Since the military was in the best position to control contraband entering Haiti despite the embargo, its members were able to profit from shortages of basic commodities while poorer Haitians faced serious deprivations. The embargo's effectiveness was further undermined by the failure to prevent shipments of oil-a critical commodity for the army-from arriving in Haiti. Still, President Aristide and many of his supporters endorsed the embargo-and urged its strengthening-as the best available method for pressuring the military, as well as an important symbol of international support for Aristide's return to office. However, on February 4, the State Department announced that the U.S. would allow case-by-case exemptions to the embargo for assembly factories, many owned by American businessmen, that use cheap Haitian labor to assemblegarments and electronic goods for export to the U.S. The administration justified this action as an effort to revive jobs for the tens of thousands of Haitians who had become unemployed as a result of the embargo and who, the administration feared, would seek to flee to the U.S. Despite its apparent humanitarian intent, the softening of the embargo was troubling because the de facto rulers of Haiti interpreted it as a sign that the U.S. government was less than serious in its support for a return to democracy. The administration offered no alternative sanction to rectify this perception.
The U.S. and the oas have had limited success in enforcing the embargo, which has been described by oas Secretary General João Baena Soares as "leaky." As many have pointed out, the Bush administration has been far more efficient at intercepting refugees on rickety sailboats on the high seas than at stopping oil tankers from docking at Port-au-Prince. The Washington Post reported in June that American products, including items such as auto and computer parts, continued to be delivered to Haiti through third countries. According to Government Accounting Office (gao) reports in May and September 1992, between November 1991 and September 1992, thirteen ships carrying oil reached Haiti, most from the European Community, which has ignored the embargo. President Bush never enlisted European support for the embargo by engaging in the high-level, personal diplomacy that he employed so successfully to build the Gulf war coalition the previous year. Since some Latin American countries have been either direct sources or transshipment points for oil and other commodities that have reached Haiti over the last year, the oas must share responsibility for the ineffectiveness of its own embargo.
The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991, issued in January 1992, included a chapter on Haiti that while factually accurate for the most part, was troubling for its omissions. Its criticism of the Aristide administration was thorough and generally well-founded. However, it understated some of President Aristide's most impressive efforts, such as those designed to eliminate the repressive rural section chiefs and to hold military officials accountable for abuses. On the other hand, the sections on military abuses since the coup lacked the detail that those on the Aristide government contained, and failed to convey the extent of army violence and repression that within the first few days had dwarfed the abuses that had taken place during President Aristide's eight months in office. In some cases, the report misrepresented facts and figures that were collected and made available by courageous Haitian human rights monitors who, at great risk, continued to work. In fact, the report failed even to discuss the fact that human rights monitors had been persecuted after the coup.
The oas Response
The Organization of American States has led international efforts to mediate a negotiated reversal of the coup. While it deserves credit for its persistent involvement in the Haitian crisis, it has been repeatedly frustrated in its dealings with the various de facto authorities in Haiti.
Perhaps the most disappointing diplomatic failure in 1992 was the collapse of the so-called Washington Protocol, brokered by the oas and signed by President Aristide and leaders of the Haitian Parliament in Washington on February 23. The agreement provided for the reinstatement of Aristide at an unspecified future date, and included a number of specific human rights provisions-such as a commitment to pass laws requiring the separation of the police force from the army and the establishment of a "citizens' protection bureau."
The protocol also offered an amnesty to the leaders of the coup for political crimes but excluded "common criminals." President Aristide made it clear the day after he signed the accord that he considered senior military leaders who had been responsible for the wholesale slaughter of innocent Haitians since the coup to be common criminals. He included in this category General Raoul Cédras, the commander in chief of the army. Despite Aristide's valid reading of the accord, the Bush administration distanced itself from his interpretation and blamed him for the agreement's ultimate demise.
Americas Watch believes that the issue of army accountability for its crimes should play a central role in international negotiations to restore President Aristide and democracy in Haiti. The issue should not be whether murderers in the Haitian army are to be brought to justice, but how this can be done. While military leaders obviously are not eager to turn over power to a government that intends immediately to try them, the periodic surge of lynchings that has marred Haiti's recent history provides army commanders with a powerful incentive to find a lawful, orderly way to placate popular demands for justice.
One way out of the impasse is suggested by the peace process now under way in El Salvador, where the parties understood that a system of accountability for the abuses of the past decade was necessary to resolve the conflict. Rather than haggle over who should face trial, they reached a compromise in which questions of justice were delegated to two independent commissions, one to document the truth about human rights violations and the other to cleanse the army of its most abusive elements.
In Haiti, then-President Joseph Nerette and then-Prime Minister Jean-Jacques Honorat were opposed to any agreement that allowed for Aristide's return. Although the army at first seemed willing to accept the accord, General Cédras soon hinted that he was not prepared to go along with it. A parliamentary session convened to vote on the accord dissolved into a fistfight in which some legislators drew guns. Finally, when the Haitian Supreme Court (packed with coup supporters) declared the protocol unconstitutional since it was not signed by Haiti's "constitutional" president, Nerette, the oas accord died.
In early September, the oas mediated talks between de facto Foreign Minister François Benoit and Rev. Antoine Adrien, the Roman Catholic priest who heads Aristide's ten-member negotiation commission. The de facto government agreed to allow the oas to send a civilian mission in an effort to curb political violence. Ultimately, the oas was permitted to send only 18 unarmed civilian observers in mid-September. The mission's scale is not as far-reaching as many had hoped; it sought to pursue political negotiations with the junta, and to monitor human rights violations and the distribution of humanitarian assistance. One of the members of the delegation was later expelled from Haiti, reportedly because he was considered by the regime to be too close to the Aristide government in exile. As of November, the mission had made little progress.
The oas assigned the job of establishing a monitoring presence in Haiti to the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, a small office created less than two years ago. The officials sent to the field have no experience in monitoring human rights violations and most do not speak Haitian creole. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (iachr), which has conducted this kind of work since 1959, was given no role in the implementation of the latest agreement.
On its own, the iachr, one of two human rights bodies of the oas, nevertheless monitored human rights violations in Haiti in 1992. The iachr sent a mission to Haiti in December 1991 and published its findings in its annual report released in February 1992. The Commission plans to send an exploratory mission to Haiti in December 1992 and an on-site visit in January 1993; those fact-finding trips will serve as the basis for a follow-up report. The Commission has sent numerous communications to the government protesting abuses and is opening a case on behalf of the family of Georges Izmery, the slain businessman whose brother was a key financial backer of President Aristide.
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 June, we published our fourteenth joint report on Haiti, "Half the Story: the Skewed U.S. Monitoring of Repatriated Haitian Refugees." The report was released one month after the Bush administration announced that it would forcibly turn back all Haitian boat people on the high seas.
Americas Watch sent a researcher to Haiti from early June to the end of August to document nationwide army attacks against the organizations of civil society-peasant unions, grassroots political groups, student associations, the press and the church. The nchr participated in a two-week mission with the Americas Watch representative in August. A joint report is expected in December.
Americas Watch in 1992 filed two amicus curiae briefs before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in cases concerning Haitian refugees. In one case, a challenge to the incommunicado detention of "screened-in" Haitians, Americas Watch highlighted the international law prohibition on prolonged incommunicado detention and noted many instances in which the U.S. State Department had condemned similar detention in other countries. In the second case, challenging the administration's executive order on summary repatriation, Americas Watch noted the deficiencies in the State Department and INS surveys used in part to justify the repatriations.