Human Rights Developments
President René Préval assumed office on February 7, 1996, marking a historic transfer of power from Haiti=s first democratic government to its second. Despite a peaceful change of government, Haiti continued to suffer police abuses and political violence, in several cases at the hands of former soldiers, in 1996. However, the absence of widespread, systematic abuses ensured that Haiti=s refugee outflow was negligible. The continued presence of both troops and civilian police of the United Nations Support Mission in Haiti contributed to the country=s relative stability. In October, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recommended UNSMIH=s extension beyond its November 30 expiration date.
The new civilian police force, the Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d=Haïti, PNH), which was created to replace the army and commenced operations in mid-1995, reached a full strength of over 5,200 agents in 1996. The PNH committed serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, the unjustified or disproportionate use of lethal force, and beatings. Eradication of abusive practices by the police apparently will require thorough training and supervision. Yet, the new force lacked qualified leaders and was plagued by poor discipline and inexperience. These ongoing abuses went almost completely unpunished. While the investigative and disciplinary actions of an internal inspector general=s office were encouraging, the judicial system lagged behind, making minimal progress on prosecutions of abusive police agents. In a troubling development, unknown assailants killed eight police agents between March and August.
The worst police violence occurred on March 6 in the Port-au-Prince shantytown Cité Soleil. Yet at this writing, the Haitian judicial system had not prosecuted any wrongdoing that day. PNH agents extrajudicially executed at least six individuals in a disturbance that commenced when local residents gathered to protest the police killings of Jimmy Poteau and Eliphète Monval. A PNH agent had reportedly shot and killed Monval at a Port-au-Prince demonstration on March 4, 1996, after the demonstrator had slapped him. At the same demonstration, the PNH unit known as the Ministerial Security Corps (Corps de Securité Ministerielle, CSM) detained Poteau and eight others, later transferring only eight detainees to the Pétionville police station. Poteau, the apparent victim of an extrajudicial execution, was found on March 5 near Portaille Léogane with a bullet in his chest.
The crowd protesting Monval=s and Poteau=s deaths erected barricades on March 6 and allegedly attacked a passing police officer. An emergency call went out on police radios and most Port-au-Prince area police units responded. Several hours of pandemonium ensued as police roared through Cité Soleil in pickup trucks firing weapons and terrified residents fled for cover. Witnesses stated that many police agents were searching for members of a purported Red Army (Armée Rouge).
PNH agents conducting house to house searches on March 6 seized Frenel Louis from his home, took him outside, and shot him twice. Leaving his body in the street, the police left the neighborhood, but returned shortly afterward and reportedly shot him again, killing him. Walson Marco was protesting with a youth group on March 6 when three PNH officers reportedly killed him, shooting him in the head, chest, and foot. Other March 6 shooting victims survived apparent police attempts at extrajudicial execution. A twenty-year-old man alleged that PNH agents took him from his home and beat him and two others while questioning them about the Red Army. When he said he did not know of such a group, the police told him to run and then shot him in the hip. Three police agents stopped a nineteen-year-old man and asked him if he was in the Red Army. He was too frightened to respond and began to run. Police officers reportedly shot him in the buttocks.
Police using excessive force wounded at least fifteen others that day. Maxim Destin was walking when he saw a police truck with at least eight armed, uniformed officers. Police fired at him as they passed, wounding him in the hip. Christol Bruno observed police in pickup trucks firing on demonstrators and then fled for his home. Police tried to force open his locked door and then fired through it, shooting him in the chin.
The Haitian police were responsible for additional summary killings in 1996, including the beating deaths of at least five detainees. In late June, PNH agents killed four detainees held at the Croix-des-Bouquets police station, near Port-au-Prince, including Fedner Descollines, whom they severely beat before throwing him in a latrine, where he was later found dead. On June 6, 1996, PNH agents beat one detainee to death and severely injured three others in the Carrefour police station.
On August 20, 1996, a leader of the Mobilization for National Development (Mobilisation pour le Développement National, MDN) party, Pastor Antoine Leroy, and member Jacques Florival were shot to death in Port-au-Prince. The U.S. Embassy alleged that members of the Presidential Guard, a unit of the national police dedicated to presidential security, were responsible. Shortly thereafter, President Préval removed the unit=s chief, deputy chief, and one other member. At this writing, the Haitian government had commenced an investigation of the deaths but had not charged anyone for the killings.
Police leaders, who received eighty-six complaints of ill-treatment or torture in the first six months of 1996, acknowledged increasing police reliance on violent interrogation methods. Some police justified beatings when detainees were armed or accused of gang activity, and one officer excused beatings as a necessary police practice, since Athese people are criminals.@ Detainees faced mistreatment during arrest and interrogation with punches, kicks, blows with pistol butts, batons, and pipes, and in one Port-au-Prince police station, with electric shocks.
Haitian police continued to use their weapons in circumstances where lethal force was unjustified or excessive. On January 16, a group of employees went to the Haitian-American Sugar Company in Port-au-Prince to demand their paychecks. A large contingent of police arrived, attempted in vain to disperse the crowd, and then opened fire, killing Martha Jean-Charles and a six-month-old baby. Police also engaged in other misconduct, including the failure to respect appropriate arrest and search procedures, the carrying of impermissible weapons (such as Uzis or M16s) and the failure to wear uniforms and identification.
The Haitian government made only half-hearted efforts to establish accountability for past human rights violations and for ongoing police abuses during 1996. The U.S. government=s refusal to return documents seized from the paramilitary organization, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (Front pour l=Avancement et Progrés d=Haïti), most widely known as FRAPH, and Haitian military headquarters in 1994 and its secret settlement with FRAPH=s leader, Emmanuel Constant, directly impeded the prosecution of human rights crimes in Haiti. The U.S. also covered up information regarding Constant=s alleged role in the October 1993 assassination of Justice Minister Guy Malary. A CIA memo detailing a meeting of Constant and other FRAPH leaders with Haitian military officers that month, reportedly to plan Malary=s execution, was released late in 1996 as part of a civil suit against FRAPH.
U.S. forces seized approximately 160,000 pages of documents and other materials from FRAPH and military headquarters late in 1994, including Atrophy@ photographs of torture victims, videotapes, and passports. FRAPH reportedly was founded with CIA assistance and its director, Constant, received regular CIA payments. FRAPH members were responsible for human rights atrocities under the military government that ruled Haiti from 1991 to 1994. The U.S. withholding of evidence of human rights crimes from the Haitian government, including documents implicating U.S. agents, and its protection of Constant, obstructed the search for truth and justice.
In this context, the Haitian government-supported Commission for Truth and Justice completed its investigation and presented a final, 1,200-page report detailing human rights violations under the military government to then President Aristide in February. President Préval later did little to follow through on the truth commission=s work, only releasing the report=s recommendations at mid-year and announcing a limited distribution of the report in October. The justice minister declared in June that the ministry
lacked sufficient funds to provide reparations for human rights victims. The committee for the enactment of the truth commission=s recommendations and the Office of Citizen Protection (Office de la Protection du Citoyen, a human rights ombudsman) both lacked a staff and financial backing.
Haitian courts made limited progress in pursuing scores of criminal complaints presented by human rights victims. By late 1996, prosecutors obtained convictions in approximately thirty cases nationwide of abuses committed by soldiers, their accomplices, and members of FRAPH, but these cases reportedly were marked by light sentences relative to the gravity of the offenses. The Haitian government suffered a resounding defeat with the acquittal of two defendants accused of assassinating the justice minister, Guy Malary, on October 14, 1993. That trial was marred by poor preparation of the prosecution and weak evidence. The prosecution of the Malary case was marred by the flight of the principal suspects, at least one under alleged U.S. protection, the government=s inability to access army and paramilitary records held by the U.S., witnesses= fear of coming forward, and poor prosecutorial preparation.
Despite minimal progress, the successful prosecution of even a few human rights offenders demonstrated the possibility that when the government chose to do so, it could make genuine progress against impunity. Thus, the government=s failure to provide justice for more human rights victims called into question its will to tackle this fundamental problem.
In 1996, Col. Michel François, the former Port-au-Prince police chief, who had been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for the 1993 murder of Aristide financial supporter Antoine Izméry left the Dominican Republic for political asylum in Honduras. Franck Romain, the former mayor of Port-au-Prince, whom the Haitian government indicted for his leading role in a 1988 massacre, accompanied him and also received political asylum. The Haitian government had not prepared extradition requests for either François or Romain at this writing.
A Special Investigation Unit created in late 1995 and operating with international support continued investigating seventy-seven politically motivated crimes committed before, during, and after the period of military government, including the 1995 series of approximately twenty Aexecution-style killings.@ Yet, the most significant development regarding these twenty cases came from the U.S. government. In testimony to the International Relations Committee of the U.S. Congress on September 27, U.S. Amb. William Lacy Swing blamed the Presidential Guard for the May 22, 1995 killing of Michel J. Gonzalez and suggested that the unit may have participated in other killings. On October 22, the Republican majority of the committee charged in a public report that the Clinton administration had Ainformation implicating@ members of the Presidential Guard in at least six 1995 killings, as well as those of the two MDN leaders on August 20, 1996. In response to U.S. requests, the Haitian government removed several members of the unit. Despite U.S. allegations, neither the U.S. nor the Haitian government produced concrete evidence that the Haitian security unit had committed these killings.
The few successful human rights prosecutions and the stigma still attached to sexual violence against women discouraged Haitians who suffered rape under the military government from seeking the prosecution of their attackers. Meanwhile, women=s organizations reported an increase in sexual violence. In April, the government took the positive step of ratifying the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women. The Ministry for Women=s Condition and the Rights of Women prepared extensive recommendations for reform of Haiti=s legal codes, including the redefinition of rape as a crime against the person rather than against morals, but the Justice Ministry had not acted on these changes at this writing.
The Haitian public=s frustration with the judiciary=s ineffectiveness contributed to recurring vigilante violence. The June 1996 attack on three prisoners, who were dragged from a prison cell in the town of Roseaux prior to trial and hacked to death, highlighted a continued reliance on popular Ajustice.@ Disappointingly, the impunity that gave rise to these killings also was extended to those responsible for vigilante violence.
Under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian government had dismantled the army, but without a comprehensive policy against impunity these demobilized soldiers continued to threaten Haiti=s security. In July, André Armand, the leader of the Organization of Soldiers Dismissed Without Cause (Rassemblement des Militaires Révoqués Sans Motifs, RAMIRESM), alleged that former soldiers were planning a coup d=état. Days later, he was shot and killed. On August 17, 1996, the government arrested fifteen former soldiers and several others at the MDN party headquarters and accused them of plotting against the government. Two days later approximately twenty armed men, reportedly in uniforms and thought to be former soldiers, fired on the Port-au-Prince police station, killing one bystander.
The improvements in prison conditions that commenced with the 1995 creation of a National Penitentiary Administration (Administration Penitentiaire Nationale, APENA) were sustained in 1996. Nonetheless, pre-trial detainees made up approximately 80 percent of the prison population, and prison authorities regularly held them with convicts. Overcrowding and substandard conditions persisted. There were fewer escapes, and the prison guards did not commit systematic human rights abuses. However, on November 28 and 29, 1995, prison guards reportedly beat child detainees at the Fort National prison. Subsequently, the government moved children to a separate facility and initiated procedures to separate children from adults in all detention centers. The Ministry of Social Affairs opened a Children=s Tribunal (Tribunal pour Enfants) in December 1995.
The Haitian press functioned with minimal restrictions in 1996, and newspapers, radio and television stations represented divergent viewpoints.
Minimum wage violations, retaliatory firings for union organizing, and sexual harassment, including dismissals for pregnancies, reportedly were commonplace in Haiti=s workplace in 1996. Yet, the Ministry of Social Affairs lacked sufficient staff, vehicles, and resources to adequately monitor compliance with labor laws.
The Right to Monitor
The Haitian government created no obstacles to the monitoring work of domestic and international human rights organizations.
The Role of the International Community
The United Nations and the Organization of American States
In June 1996, the U.N. reduced its troops in Haiti from 6,000 to 1,300, and the number of civilian police dropped from 800 to approximately 300. The mandate of the newly named UNSMIH extended until November 30. The U.N. troops contributed to greater security, while the civilian police provided training assistance to the Haitian police force. The U.N. Human Rights Commission extended the mandate of the independent expert on Haiti, Adama Dieng, for another year, requiring him to submit a report at the commission=s fifty-third session.
The U.N./OAS International Civilian Mission in Haiti maintained a reduced presence, with approximately sixty human rights observers. The mission provided technical assistance to the justice ministry and police, and monitored human rights. The mission increased outreach and training for local organizations.
The European Union provided valuable support to improve prison conditions and contributed to judges= training. The French led UNSMIH=s civilian police. However, the French government expelled Haitians from the French Caribbean departments of St. Martin and Guadalupe, without respect for due process rights.
Sustaining a strong commitment to Haiti in 1996, Canada provided a significant portion of UNSMIH troops and civilian police, and technical assistance, particularly to the judiciary.
The U.S. played a leading role in police and judicial reform and supporting elections as part of an overall aid package of US$120 million in 1996. Most U.S. troops departed Haiti early in the year. Despite this notable commitment, by delaying the return of the FRAPH and Haitian military materials to the Haitian government for over two years and by protecting FRAPH leader Emmanuel Constant, the Clinton administration impeded Haiti=s progress on prosecuting human rights abuses. U.S. officials negotiating for the return of the seized items proposed limiting access to certain Haitian investigative and prosecutorial authorities with the apparent aim of avoiding retaliation against named individuals. The administration=s further insistence on the excision of U.S. citizens= names apparently served the separate and illegitimate purpose of covering up possible U.S. complicity in political murder and other abuses, particularly the involvement of U.S. intelligence agents with the military government and FRAPH. In late September, U.S. officials announced plans to return these items to Haiti, but in fact, the administration had only arranged for delivery to the U.S. Embassy there. As of this writing, the U.S. had not reached an agreement for the return of the documents and other materials to the Haitian government.
In June, the U.S. reached a secret settlement with FRAPH=s leader, Emmanuel Constant, allowing Constant to remain in the United States. Several months after Constant was detained and found deportable by the U.S. immigration authorities, the Clinton administration decided to release him into the United States rather than return him to Haiti. The agreement allowed Constant to go free on June 14, 1996 and provided him with a work permit, but required that he not speak publicly. Constant also retained the option to choose deportation to a country other than Haiti or the Dominican Republic, subject to U.S. approval.
The U.S. Congress conducted several hearings on political violence in Haiti during 1996. The September testimony of Amb. William Swing, and the International Relations Committee Republican majority=s public report revealed the administration=s prior knowledge of alleged participation of the Haitian Presidential Guard in political killings in 1995 and 1996. As the year drew to a close, the need remained clear for the administration to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations that U.S. government agents or entities had been or were involved in serious human rights violations in Haiti in the past years.