Human Rights Situation Report: October, November, & mid-December 2002
The human rights situation in Haiti is rapidly deteriorating as the political and economic crises have reached a new level of severity and violence. Many had hoped that the Lavalas government would apply OAS Resolution 822 and begin working to establish a true democracy and state of law in Haiti. It has become apparent that those hopes were in vain.
Included in the resolution was the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to be charged with planning local, municipal and legislative elections for the first half of 2003. Given the current state of the country, forming a CEP seems virtually impossible as the majority of societal sectors have lost complete faith that current government will be able to create a secure environment in which to hold the elections.
Nationwide Demonstrations and Political Unrest
For the past three weeks, demonstrations and protests have been a daily occurrence across the country, in Jacmel, Mirebalais, Cap Haïtien, Gonaïves, Petit Goâve and Port-au-Prince. The government has responded with extreme brutality. Passive anti-government demonstrations, in many cases led by student movements, have been violently interrupted by pro-Lavalas groups and a clearly untrained police force.
Cap-Haïtien The new wave of anti-government demonstrations started in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien on the anniversary of the Battle of Vertières, the decisive battle in the fight for Haiti’s independence. On Sunday, November 17, 2002, tens of thousands of demonstrators (some say upwards of 60,000) gathered in a passive march escorted by the police to protest the Lavalas government during the “Weekend of Unity” celebrations. Himmler Rebu, former military general and one of the demonstration’s organizers, called for all people who are disconcerted with the current government to speak out and protest through passive demonstrations. The march itself unfolded without any violence, but partisans of the Lavalas government reacted in the days following with threats to a number of politicians who had participated in the demonstration.
Gonaïves: “A Lawless Jurisdiction” The majority of demonstrations and tension has been focused in Gonaïves. Students and other groups such as the Union Citoyenne des Gonaïves (UCGO) have demonstrated calling for the president to resign, claiming that Haiti is exhausted from the present “dictatorship”.
Amiot Metayer, the fugitive leader of “Cannibal Army” has resumed his former role of violently defending the Lavalas government breaking up any anti-Lavalas protests. Jean Tatoune, tried and convicted for his responsibility in the Raboteau Massacre of 1994, has continued to be the primary leader of anti-governmental demonstrations in Gonaïves. Since then, the two groups have been attacking one another. On December 1, 2002, Metayer and his group attacked Jean Tatoune’s group in Upper Raboteau, setting fire to more than thirty homes in the area.
As the Investigating Magistrate Marcel Jean describes it, Gonaïves has become “a lawless jurisdiction”. Gonaïves has become a jurisdiction of total anarchy under the direction of Metayer, and the “Cannibal Army” is terrorizing and imposing its law on the population under impunity and in the name of the Lavalas government. Metayer has gone so far as to openly thank the government for his liberation from prison.
Lascohobas (Central Plateau) On Thursday November 28th, Justice of the Peace from Belladères Christophe Lozama died after being shot following a conflict between members of the opposition and Fanmi Lavalas. Early that day, Judge Lozama left his jurisdiction of Belladères, accompanied by several influential members of Fanmi Lavalas, employees of Belladères City Hall. The group of men, twelve in total, traveling on motorcycles, came across a demonstration of opposition partisans in the town of Lakolin. The group of demonstrators was disbanded.
Arriving in the neighboring town of Poulie, Judge Lozama and his group discovered a meeting of opposition members in a local home. After an exchange of words, the two groups began firing on one another. It was during this exchange of fire that Judge Lozama was shot and killed.
Saturday, December 7, a group of men, accompanied by men dressed in black CIMO (Corps d’Intervention de Maintien l’Ordre) uniforms, entered the town of Poulie. Composed of significant Lavalas leaders and headed by Minister of the Interior’s Amos Metéllus, the group proceeded to ransack several homes in the area and assault of number of residents, all in the presence of a Lascahobas Justice of the Peace.
The violence continued on Tuesday December 10, when a group individuals dressed in black entered the local police station, taking police firearms and releasing four individuals being detained. One individual was killed as the men made their way into the station. The group proceeded to take a police vehicle, accompanied by a police officer who drove them out of Lascahobas. Having reached their destination, the vehicle was set on fire. Later that evening three individuals believed to be police informants, were killed in Poulie. It is believed that these executions were planned and carried out by this same group of men that made an appearance at the police station earlier that evening.
Port-au-Prince On Friday November 22, all activity in the capital city of Port-au-Prince was brought to a standstill when pro-governmental demonstrators violently took over the city. Popular Organizations (OP) groups close to the Lavalas party placed blockades and burned tires at strategic points throughout Port-au-Prince to prevent all activity in an attempt to protest the anti-governmental demonstrations that were flaring up around the country. Police vehicles and some vehicles with “official” license plates were seen aiding the demonstrators by delivering tires to be burned. Some of the demonstrators also went as far as to throw rocks at vehicles that attempted to circulate in the city. The police present on the scene did nothing to control the chaos and destruction.
The unrest carried over into the month of December. December 3, 2002 marked the 1st year anniversary of the brutal murder of journalist Brignol Lindor in Petit Goâve – a day still very vivid in the minds of the Haitian population. At a mass for Lindor held at a church in Pétion-Ville, Lavalas supporters were present even before the ceremony began to intimidate those attending the mass by shouting and throwing around tracks and photos of Aristide.
A passive march in the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince was planned for later that morning. When the demonstrators arrived at the meeting place, Lavalas partisans were already there, prepared for a confrontation. March organizers had planned the march in collaboration with the police who were prepared to provide security for the demonstrators. However, when the time came, pro-Lavalas individuals attacked the protestors with sticks and rocks, at one point spraying urine on the protestors, all under the passive eyes of the police. The march was canceled. Subsequent attacks were made upon a number of university faculties in the city.
A protest of a different sort was held the following day on Wednesday, December 4. Instead of taking to the streets, anti-government protestors responded by staying home in what was called a “general strike”. Gas stations were closed, as were banks, schools, grocery stores, shops and restaurants in silent protest against Aristide. Surprisingly, the day was not marked with violence.
As a result of the violent confrontations that have taken place over the last several weeks, numerous student protestors and other individuals questioning the leadership of President Aristide have gone into hiding, following further attacks and persecution.
The Shameful Behavior of the Haitian National Police (PNH)
The actions of the Haitian National Police (PNH), specifically those of specialized units, have been abominable throughout the past weeks, as PNH officers have continued to be the source of serious human rights violations. Despite a few isolated incidents, PNH officers bounce between extremes, either crushing passive demonstrations with brutal force, or standing by doing nothing as aggressive Lavalas partisans attacked anti-government demonstrators.
On November 20, thousands of students in Petit-Goâve joined together to protest the rising fees for school registration, the high cost of living, government corruption, and the lack of electricity. The protest slowly evolved into an anti-governmental demonstration. As the students approached the town square, they were met by a squad of CIMO (Corps d’Intervention de Maintien l’Ordre) officers who opened fire on the demonstrators. Nine students between the ages of 10 and 23 were injured by police bullets. PNH authorities defended the actions of their officers in Petit-Goâve declaring that the students were planning to lower the flag in front of the Police Station to half-mast.
In contrast, PNH officers did nothing to stop any of the violence and destruction when pro-Lavalas groups took to the streets on November 22. To justify the lack of action by the PNH in the violent pro-governmental demonstration authorities pointed to the supposed spontaneity of the movement and claimed that they didn’t have time to respond. Said the director of the PNH, “We were caught off-guard.”
Threats to the Independent Press
The climate of unrest and violence is having a direct impact on the Haitian independent press. Over the course of the last two weeks of November, journalists and radio stations have been verbally and physically under attack.
Members of the independent press in Gonaïves, in particular, have become targets of threats and acts of intimidation committed by members of Amiot Metayer’s “Cannibal Army”. In one incident, a radio station, Radio Etincelle was set on fire. Seven journalists from various radio stations in the area went into hiding on November 22, and were eventually evacuated out of the area by the Haitian Journalist Association (AJH) with the collaboration of the PNH. They are currently in hiding in Port-au-Prince.
Radio journalists in Cap Haïtien have also been feeling the pressure. Radio Maxima, received an ultimatum a few days after covering the massive protest on November 17th threatening that it had forty-eight (48) hours to shutdown and cease all programs. If the station did not comply, it would be destroyed by fire. The director of Radio Maxima, Jean-Robert Lalane, claims that General Director of the Ministry of the Interior, Angelot Bell, is ultimately to blame for the oppression as he made threatening statements on the air at nearby Radio Africa FM.
The government has yet to denounce any of these politically motivated threats or acts of violence against the independent press.
Politically Tainted Justice
The struggle to create an independent, objective judicial system in Haiti continues as several judicial cases remain blocked and tainted by political influences.
Prosper Avril On October 22, 2002, the Court of Appeal in Gonaïves rendered an order for the immediate release of former army general and ex-president Prosper Avril who has been detained in the national penitentiary since his second arrest on April 15, 2002 on false charges revolving around the Massacre of Piatre of 1990. Earlier this year, Judge Kesner Noel came forward to denounce government officials that had coerced him into signing the warrant for Avril’s arrest.
Shortly following the decision, Deputy State Prosecutor Ricquet Brutus publicly declared that the State Prosecutor’s office of Port-au-Prince does not have the capacity to comply with the decision. To date, the judicial decision has yet to be executed and Avril remains in custody at the National Penitentiary.
Brignol Lindor Assassination
December 3, 2002 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Petit Goâve journalist Brignol Lindor. On October 27, 2002 two more individuals were arrested in connection with the murder, one of whom is a member of Domi nan Bwa, the popular organization close to the government who carried out the execution.
Earlier this year, Investigating Magistrate Fritzner Duclair, in charge of preparing the case, failed to implicate the government officials who called for this appalling crime, further tightening the noose of impunity that is strangling the country. Family members and members of AJH (l’Association des Journalists Haïtiens) are appealing the decision.
Guacimal case On Monday, December 2, 2002, the final two Batay Ouvriye workers arrested and detained following a violent confrontation between union workers and their employers in the town of Guacimal last May, were released from prison in Grand Rivière du Nord. After spending more than six months in prison, Mr. Urbain Garçon and Mr. Jéremie Dorvil were the last of eleven individuals to be released following significant pressure from the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) and other human rights organizations.
The release of these two men mark a significant accomplishment both for human rights organizations as well as the Haitian judicial system that, despite a lengthy timeframe, assumed its responsibility in rendering justice to Mr. Garçon and Mr. Dorvil. This said, however, the human rights community continues to be troubled by the fact that those responsible for the deaths of two Guacimal residents who were killed during the confrontation have yet to be held responsible for their crime.
Police Brutality, Zero Tolerance And Disappearances
A number of severe cases of police brutality have recently surfaced, attesting the reality that Haitian police stations are being used as torture chambers. The latest cases are from Carrefour, a suburb in the metropolitan area with a police force notorious for its cruelty.
During a routine visit of the sub-police station of St. Charles, Carrefour, a delegation from the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) discovered a twelve-year-old boy, Willio Jeune. Arrested on November 30, 2002, for a crime committed by a relative, Willio was taken to the sub-police station and brutally beaten with an iron rod by a police officer and employee of the station. Willio’s back was torn open and as he was denied medical treatment of any kind, the wound quickly became infected.
Willio was released shortly after NCHR’s intervention. As a result of his testimony regarding his treatment, Carrefour police officers quickly sought out Willio later the same day. Fortunately they were unable to find him as he is currently in hiding. NCHR continues to be involved the case.
During the night of December 9, 2002, police officers broke down the door of Mr. Pierre Voltaire Leblanc’s home in Carrefour. The two (2) officers proceeded to beat Mr. Leblanc in the face before taking him to the St. Charles sub-police station. Mr. Leblanc was arrested without a warrant, at approximately 10:00pm both blatant violations of the Haitian Constitution of 1987. Mr. Leblanc was later released on December 10, following a visit with a Justice of the Peace and a delegation from NCHR.
A mother lost three of her sons in a single incident as PNH officers ruthlessly took the lives of three young men during the early morning of December 8, 2002. According to the only witness, twelve-year-old Jean Roland Nozil, three masked men dressed in black, with shirts marked “Police”, entered the home where the boys were sleeping. The officers left with three men and told Jean Roland to hide on his bed.
Officers at both the principal police station and sub-police station of Carrefour deny any arrests during the night in question, and claimed not to know anything.
The bodies of Andy Philippe (20 years old), Angelo Philippe (22 years old), and Vladimir Sanon (21 years old) were eventually found at the State morgue in Port-au-Prince. All three (3) had been shot.
The past few months have also seen the rise of a disturbing phenomenon, that of disappearances. The Konvansyon Inite Demokratik (KID), a political party of the Opposition, has been particularly affected as four (4) members have gone missing since June of last year. Vanel Pierre and Patrick Jonais were arrested on Sunday June 10, 2001 by PNH officers and taken to the Delmas Police Station. The two (2) men have not been heard from since. Since that date, no contact has been made with them.
More recently, two (2) KID members, Mondesir Jean-latouche and David Barjon, have been missing since their illegal arrest by the PNH on Monday October 14th, 2002. These latest disappearances come almost one (1) year after a KID member, Severe Ceneque, was severely beaten by the PNH during his arrest in the northern community of Plaisance. Ceneque later died in police custody, as a result of his injuries.
Emmanuel Auguste, a former soccer player with alleged political ties, was arrested on October 26th in Carrefour by a unit of the PNH. Officers in charge at both the principal and sub-police stations in Carrefour deny ever having Auguste in their custody; however, Auguste’s mother delivered food to her son at the sub-police station the day following his arrest. Despite continued efforts by family members and human rights organizations in particular NCHR, Auguste has yet to be found.
Equally mysterious is the disappearance of Paul Voltaire, Police Commissioner of the Palace National Guard. Voltaire was arrested when leaving work on the evening of October 23rd, 2002, and has not been seen since.
Felix Bien-Aime, Paul Mousac JEAN and Dyal Normil, reported missing early September 2002 are still missing at the time of this report.
October 2002: Prisoners Rights Month
Within this turbulent context, NCHR and the Direction de l’Administration Penitentiaire (DAP) celebrated a successful month with its national prisoners’ rights campaign. Under the banner of “All people have rights, prisoners are people”, NCHR and DAP spent the month of October visiting several prisons across the country, making prisoners aware of their rights and responsibilities while creating awareness on the societal level about the conditions in Haitian prisons.
The current problems within the penitentiary system are many. The majority of prisons have small cells, are without a courtyard, and do not offer a secure environment for neither the DAP agents nor the prisoners. The campaign has also revealed serious cases of injustice as a result of incompetence on the part of certain judicial authorities. The prison population continues to grow as prolonged detention constitutes a chronic problem within the system with over eighty-two percent (82 percent) of the incarcerated population awaiting judgment and only eighteen percent (18 percent) having been tried and sentenced.
In total, fourteen of the nineteen prisons were touched by the campaign. Prisoners in six prisons received special human rights presentations, followed by the distribution of 400 Health Kits donated to NCHR by the Mennonite Central Committee . Radio interviews and special radio talk shows were conducted throughout the month.
The campaign concluded with a large celebration at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince on International Prisoners’ Day on Sunday, October 27, 2002. President Aristide attended the celebrations. In the days following the celebrations, a judicial commission was established (composed of state prosecutors, judges, and a DAP representative) charged with dealing with cases of prolonged detention. Within the first week, twenty-four individuals were released.
The Autonomy of the Haitian State University (UEH): In a drastic turnaround at the end of November, the government withdrew its July 27th decree which had ousted the independent UEH executive council and had replaced it with a temporary management commission with Charles Tardieu at the head.
Peaceful demonstrations held by students and professors supporting an independent UEH throughout October and November reached a peak in intensity with two (2) demonstrations in the middle of November. On Wednesday the 13th and again two (2) days later, hundreds of UEH students accompanied by members of the former Executive Council were escorted by police to protest Tardieu and the temporary management commission, the Minister of Education Mrs. Célestin Saurel, the Lavalas Government and the changes that had been made to the University. The protestors made it clear that they would continue to demonstrate “passively but with determination” until their demands were met.
The Executive Council was invited to meet with President Aristide on Wednesday November 20th to discuss the situation. Following the meeting, and without discussing any changes with Minister of Education Saurel, the Secretary of State Communications Mario Dupuy, that the she would receive instructions for the cancellation of the temporary management commission which she had organized. Minister Saurel read her letter of resignation on the radio the following day.
The first move of the new Minister of Education, Marie Carmelle Austin, was to reintegrate the former Executive Council as the head of the UEH.
Within the past several months, three government ministers have resigned. In addition to the recent resignation of the Minister of Education, both the Minister of Negotiations and the Minister of Justice and Security stepped down from their government responsibilities.
As questions abound as to whether the current government can keep the political situation under control, Haiti’s economy has recently hit a low point that is worse than anything the country has seen since the return of constitutional order in 1987.
Rumors that the government was planning to nationalize all US dollar accounts caused panic, resulting in the severe devaluation of the gourde as people began withdrawing money from their US accounts. In a matter of days, the value of the gourdes dropped from 27 to 40 in relation to the US dollar. The devaluation of the gourdes threatens to devastate a country already stricken with absolute poverty as prices for basic food items has increased twofold.
Violence in Fonds Baptiste
A land conflict that has been causing problems for almost eight years in the rural mountain community of Fonds Baptiste has continues claim lives. On Sunday December 8, three police officers and one civilian were killed. Reports surrounding the incident are conflicting, requiring further investigation. NCHR plans to dispatch a delegation early in the New Year.