Human Rights Developments
Human rights violations in Haiti mounted in 1994 as the military regime increasingly turned to terror tactics in its effort to eliminate all vestiges of support for elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. During the first half of the year, as international efforts to restore democracy foundered, the army joined forces with paramilitary thugs in a marathon of gross human rights violations.
In May, the Clinton administration stepped up pressure on the regime through stiffer international sanctions and threatening the use of force. In September, a last-minute agreement with the regime led to the unopposed occupation of Haiti by a U.S.-led multinational force. Within weeks, the coup leaders had stepped down and President Aristide returned on October 15. The U.S. deployment interrupted the regime's campaign of brutality, although violent incidents continued to occur.
Violations previously less common in Haiti emerged as patterns during the first months of the year. These included forced disappearances, rapes, and grotesque murders, crimes calculated to terrorize the population at large. These acts were increasingly directed against the relatives and neighbors of activists.
The army used armed civilian adjuncts, or attachés, to crush civil society. The army-backed paramilitary group calling itself the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) continued to be implicated in countless human rights crimes. Composed of well-armed neo-Duvalierists and attachés, FRAPH opened offices around the country and established informer networks in numerous communities, recruiting members through bribery and terror.
On December 27, 1993, FRAPH agents with police protection torched a section of Cité Soleil, a Port-au-Prince shantytown, killing at least thirty-six, and leaving thousands homeless. The massacre became the blueprint for systematic attacks on poor neighborhoods that, though indiscriminate in their choice of victims, comprised a broader strategy to neutralize opposition to the regime.
On April 23, the army and FRAPH massacred at least fifteen residents of Raboteau, a poor neighborhood of Gonaives that had already suffered numerous army incursions. Hundreds of residents fled the area in the aftermath of the massacre. Similar attacks in the vicinity of Le Borgne were reported, although the army prevented journalists and human rights activists from entering the besieged area. While the army typically justified these operations with the pretext that it was looking for weapons or routing suspected guerrillas, there was no evidence that the scores of victims of these assaults were guerrillas or were armed.
The United Nations/Organization of American States International Civilian Mission investigated over two hundred reports of extrajudicial executions from February to July, adding to the estimated death toll of 3,000-4,000 people since the September 1991 coup d'etat. More than fifty-three cases of forced disappearances were also reported. In most of these cases the victims never reappeared or were found dead, while victims found alive reported that they had been held at clandestine detention sites and tortured.
Rape became a frequent tool used with impunity by state agents to repress women activists and women relatives of activists. The U.N./OAS Mission documented sixty-six cases of politically motivated rape in the first half of 1994; other cases were documented by Human Rights Watch, the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Victims fearing retaliation by their army-backed assailants, effectively were prevented from reporting the attacks, seeking medical attention, or obtaining legal redress.
The army and FRAPH conducted innumerable warrantless arrests of suspected activists whom they routinely tortured, and usually released only after extorting large sums of money from their families. Other detainees were imprisoned for indefinite periods, without charges, trial, or sentence. In Les Cayes, U.S. soldiers occupying the army barracks found approximately forty emaciated prisoners, some bearing marks of torture; one later died.
In May, the army installed former Supreme Court Justice Emile Jonaissant as de facto president, albeit unrecognized by the international community. In August, he declared a state of emergency which redundantly accorded sweeping powers to the military. Throughout the year basic freedoms were suppressed: journalists continued to be threatened and harassed, meetings were banned, and all expressions of opposition quelled.
An estimated 300,000 Haitians were forced into hiding under the coup regime. Soldiers and paramilitary agents frequently attacked the families of activists already in hiding. As one appalling indication of this practice, forty human rights violations against children were documented by the U.N./O.A.S. Mission during the first half of the year.
Thousands of Haitians continued to flee by sea. In May, de facto President Jonaissant ordered the army to deter boat departures, invoking an arguably illegal 1980 decree that prohibited "clandestine voyages." During the following months, hundreds of Haitians preparing to depart by sea were violently assaulted and arrested by the Haitian army.
The army rampage against Haitian civil society was halted by the U.S. intervention. Human rights violations continued, however, in the form of bloody attacks on exultant pro-Aristide demonstrators. Dozens of people were murdered by the Haitian army and FRAPH around the country during the first weeks of the occupation.
The Right To Monitor
To their credit, Haitian human rights monitors continued to document and report human rights violations, often at great personal risk. The murder of a prominent priest, and death threats received by members of the Haitian Human Rights Platform, signaled a recrudescence in repression that forced many of them into hiding in August.
The U.N./OAS International Civilian Mission returned to Haiti on January 31 for the first time since its 200-strong observer staff was evacuated in October 1993. Seventy mission observers in Port-au-Prince conducted thorough investigations of reported violations. Disappointingly, the United Nations failed to renew the mission's expired mandate, leaving it vulnerable to the whims of the army regime. In March, mission observers visiting Hinche were harassed and chased out of town by well-armed FRAPH members with army cooperation. On July 11, Jonaissant ordered the mission to leave the country, which it did on July 13.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made two trips to Haiti during the year. During its second visit in October, the commission urged the Haitian government to investigate past violations and hold the perpetrators accountable.
The Role of the
The Clinton administration made a sharp reversal in Haiti policy midway through the year, transforming its failed approach of accommodating the military regime into a face-off that resulted in the September intervention. Throughout the year, however, the administration was consistent in failing to promote accountability for human rights violations or to insist on safeguards to prevent their recurrence.
During the first half of 1994, U.S. officials actively promoted a blanket amnesty for human rights violations committed since the coup, in addition to the amnesty for crimes associated with the coup itself already decreed by President Aristide. Even after the U.S.-led occupation of Haiti, the administration consistently failed to oppose a broad amnesty that would deny victims of human rights crimes their internationally guaranteed right to a legal remedy.
Until April, the administration responded to the army's failure to comply with the July 1993 Governors Island accord by pressing President Aristide to accept a power-sharing arrangement with elements of the military regime. During the first months of the year, U.S. Special Envoy Lawrence Pezzullo and U.N. Envoy Dante Caputo backed initiatives which required additional concessions by President Aristide without insisting that the coup leaders comply with their previous commitments.
Consistent with its pursuit of a power-sharing arrangement, the administration downplayed human rights abuses committed by the Haitian armed forces and its supporters, choosing not to condemn publicly serious abuses or to attribute responsibility for them to the military regime. The Haiti entry of the Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993, released in February 1994, was characterized by serious omissions and errors of content and analysis. But by far the most damning manifestation was an April 12 confidential U.S. Embassy cablegram, signed by Ambassador William Swing, that was leaked to the press in early May. While admitting that violence was high, the embassy's cablegram exhibited more concern that Aristide supporters were using the human rights situation to their political advantage than for the victims of violations: "The Haitian Left manipulates and fabricates human rights abuses as a propaganda tool, wittingly or unwittingly assisted in this effort by human rights NGOs and by the ICM [U.N./OAS International Civilian Mission]." The cablegram provoked an international furor and deepened the schism between the embassy and Haitian and international human rights monitors that would prove difficult to bridge.
During the first half of the year, U.S. Coast Guard cutters continued to interdict and forcibly repatriate Haitians fleeing by sea, according them no prior hearing to determine their eligibility for recognition as refugees. Scores of these repatriates were detained by the Haitian army upon return. In at least two cases, a repatriated Haitian was assaulted in the presence of U.S. officials.
Asylum-seekers were referred to the U.S. Embassy's in-country processing program, which remained chronically unfair in processing claims. With an inexcusable lack of foresight, the U.S.allowed 2,000 approved refugees to become stranded for months in Haiti after the June suspension of commercial flights. In June, an approved refugee in hiding was kidnapped and left for dead by paramilitary attachés.
Clinton reversed his policy of forced repatriation in early May. In June, thousands of fleeing Haitians quickly overwhelmed an ill-conceived shipboard screening program. On July 6, all interdicted Haitians were interred at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they were offered a choice between voluntary repatriation or indefinite detention. While the new policy effectively ended the illegal practice of summary repatriation, it did little to uphold the right of Haitians to seek asylum. By late October, all but 6,000 of a total population of 20,000 detained since July had repatriated.
In April, with international efforts to restore democracy stymied and outrage over U.S. refugee policy and serious human rights violations mounting domestically, President Clinton overhauled his Haiti policy. Special Envoy Lawrence Pezzullo resigned in late April, and was replaced by a former congressman, United Negro College Fund president William Gray, III.
The U.S. also successfully sought a U.N. resolution upgrading the oil and arms embargo to a full-fledged trade embargo with stronger enforcement mechanisms. The lists of Haitian military and civilian coup supporters targeted for the freezing of assets and visa denials was expanded and adopted universally under the U.N. resolution.
On July 31, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 940, which invoked Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and allowed the U.S. to form a multinational force "to use all necessary means to facilitate the departure from Haiti of the military leadership." The defiant Haitian military responded by levying charges of treason against President Aristide, while Lt. General Cédras made a show of training civilian militias who would attack the invading troops.
On September 13, the State Department rectified its past indifference by issuing a strong condemnation of human rights abuses in Haiti. Two days later, President Clinton addressed the nation with an emotional description of the regime's brutality as a principal rationale for invading Haiti. Of course, after months of misleading the U.S. public on human rights and tolerating unfounded CIA attacks on Aristide's fitness for the presidency, Clinton had difficulties convincing a skeptical Congress and public that restoring Aristide to Haiti merited risking the lives of U.S. soldiers.
In a last-ditch effort to avoid an unpopular hostile intervention, President Clinton authorized former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Sam Nunn, and General (Retired) Colin Powell to negotiate with the Haitian army's high command. On September 18, with war planes en route to Haiti, the Carter delegation produced an accord, signed by de facto president Emile Jonaissant, under which the top three coup leaders would step down by October 15, the Parliament would pass a general amnesty, and international sanctions would be lifted. U.N. Special Envoy Caputo resigned in protest over the lack of consultation during the last-minute negotiations.
The Carter agreement allowed U.S. army soldiers and marines to enter the "semi-permissive environment" of Haiti on September 19 without firing a single shot. The U.S. troops were then joined by personnel from other countries, constituting a 16,000 strong multinational force. The mission of the U.S.-led force was to create a "secure environment" which would enable the U.S. to turn the operation over to a U.N. peacekeeping force in early 1995.
While the Carter agreement provided for a bloodless entry into Haiti, U.S. forces were left in the position of working in cooperation with the Haitian army. On September 20, American soldiers watched Haitian police beat two men to death, prompting a reevaluation of the rules of engagement that enabled the troops to intervene to protect Haitian lives. On September 24, an altercation between U.S. soldiers and Haitian policemen in Cap Haitien left ten Haitian police dead and a U.S. army interpreter slightly wounded. Thereafter, a significant portion of the Haitian military, including police, simply deserted to avoid contending with the American troops and an accusing population.
Reluctant to become entangled in internal matters such as law enforcement, the Clinton administration unwisely looked to the Haitian army as the only institution capable of maintaining order pending the creation of a new civilian police force. Alarmingly, in spite of months of preparation, the U.S. plan did not include adequate mechanisms for the meticulous screening of the army to purge it of human rights violators.
An all-military Haitian commission was charged with selecting 3,000 police recruits from its own ranks for an interim force. The army lists were then reviewed by the U.S. Embassy with information it had compiled on known human rights violators. This cursory screening process lacked essential investigative capability, transparency, and Haitian civilian involvement. Those selected received a six-day course from U.S. police trainers, were issued sidearms, and were redeployed under the same army command structure. These soldiers were expected either to qualify for admission into the new police acadamy or be retained as part of a smaller, reformed army. About 1,000 former refugees from Guantánamo also recruited for the interim force were likely to be unarmed and assigned to administrative duties.
While disarmament would be essential to ending the violence in the short and long term, the U.S. had no plans for the systematic recovery of weapons held by paramilitary groups. Although U.S. officials reported in November that 14,000 weapons had been recovered, many thousands remained in the hands of soldiers, attachés and FRAPH members still at large. The concentration of international troops in major cities and towns, moreover, had left vast rural areas unprotected.
Press reports in October presented credible evidence of Central Intelligence Agency funding of notorious FRAPH leader Emmanuel Constant, which continued until early 1994. After the intervention, the U.S. maintained close contact with Constant, raising concerns about the U.S. commitment to dismantling the most vicious of the paramilitary groups.
Aristide supporters occasionally turned to violence in efforts to seek retribution for the abuses they had suffered at the hands of state agents. More often, however, they detained and disarmed alleged abusers and turned them over to the multi-national forces. The latter usually released them, to the frustration of their accusers. Clearly, one central requirement was U.S. support for lawful mechanisms to provide justice for serious crimes in part to prevent the recurrence of such crimes in the future and in part to prevent the spread of popular retaliatory violence.
On October 15, President Aristide returned to Haiti and was welcomed by jubilant crowds. After naming a new prime minister and government, he faced the enormous tasks of repairing the ravaged national economy, establishing a permanent, civilian police force answerable to civilian authority, and rehabilitating a crippled judiciary. He was also responsible for establishing a climate favorable to holding parliamentary and local government elections, tentatively scheduled for early in 1995. Most importantly, with financial and technical assistance of the international community, he would have to break the cycle of violence that has plagued Haiti for decades by assuring accountability for thousands of crimes committed under the coup regime.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Americas
Human Rights Watch/Americas continued to work closely with the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees (NCHR) to press the Clinton administration to make accountability for human rights violations a centerpiece of its efforts to restore democracy to Haiti. A principal goal of our work was to articulate why the U.S. should not promote a broad amnesty excusing human rights crimes. A week after the U.S. intervention, a Human Rights Watch and NCHR delegation arrived in Haiti to raise the profile of accountability issues. Our concern about the amnesty then under consideration by the Haitian parliament was consistent with the views of broad sectors of Haitian society, and was reflected in the limited scope of the amnesty eventually passed.
We also advocated for the establishment of a truth commission, not as a substitute for legal justice, but as a mechanism to investigate past abuses and encourage national debate about the appropriate ways to establish justice and foster reconciliation.
We continued to insist on an end to the U.S. policy of forcibly repatriating Haitians fleeing by sea without a refugee status determination. The halting of summary repatriations in June was a partial victory, yet we continued to assert that the camp established at Guantánamo Bay should be only a temporary measure, and that no Haitian should be returned involuntarily without a full and fair hearing of his or her asylum claim.
We published three reports during the year based on a February mission to Haiti, and the ongoing research of Human Rights Watch's Americas division and Women's Rights Project, and the NCHR. Each of these reports documented the mounting repression and devastation of Haitian society during the first half of the year: Terror Prevails in Haiti: Human Rights Violations and Failed Diplomacy (Human Rights Watch and the NCHR, April 1994); Rape in Haiti: A Weapon of Terror (Human Rights Watch and the NCHR, July 1994); and Fugitives from Injustice: The Crisis of Internal Displacement in Haiti (Human Rights Watch, the NCHR and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, August 1994).
Jean Claude Jean, the Secretary-General of the Haitian Human Rights Platform, a consortium of nine human rights groups, was invited to participate in Human Rights Watch's annual event honoring selected human rights monitors from around the world.
Throughout the year, we urged the administration to incorporate effective mechanisms for meticulous human rights screening of recruits for the interim and permanent police forces. A mission in late October focused on the issue of police and the dismantling of paramilitary structures of repression, both essential to the credibility of elections due to be held in early 1995, and to the success of Haiti's efforts to build a democracy from the ashes of a dictatorship.