Originally: OAS Human Rights Official Condemns Murders of Haitian Dissidents

OAS Human Rights Official Condemns Murders of Haitian Dissidents

Faults Haiti’s government for failing to protect freedom of expression

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2003&m=July&x=20030724173943neer

Washington — Journalists, politicians, trade union organizers, and others have been murdered in recent years in Haiti for criticizing the political process in that Caribbean nation, says a human rights officer for the Organization of American States (OAS).

In a July 23 statement, Eduardo Bertoni, the OAS “Special Rapporteur” for freedom of expression, said the assassinations of journalists Jean Leopold Dominique and Brignol Lindor and the “constant possibility of reprisals because of what is investigated, printed, or disseminated leads to self-censorship on the part of many media outlets and social communicators.”

Bertoni condemned the “lack of compliance” on the part of Haiti’s government with its obligation to “expose, try, and sanction those responsible” for the assassinations and acts of harassment against journalists. The Haitian government’s failure to take action, said Bertoni, “contributes to the intimidation and, therefore, to the self-censorship of social commentators.”

The official said that the apparent “impunity” of those who carry out attacks against journalists and the media also “contributes to create an environment of intimidation and harassment” that discourages “the full exercise of the freedom of expression in Haiti.”

Bertoni’s office released a new document called “Report on the State of Freedom of Expression in Haiti,” which combines the information gathered by Bertoni during his recent visits to Haiti with other information he received during and after those trips.

The government of Haiti must take all “necessary measures” to protect the media and others, Bertoni said. He added that the government must undertake a “serious, impartial and effective investigation of the acts of violence” against journalists, “and try and punish those responsible for violations of freedom of expression.”

For its part, the United States says a decade of poor governance and economic mismanagement has brought Haiti to a near standstill.

In recent congressional testimony, Adolfo Franco, assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said the United States seeks to help Haitian civil society resist the “growing authoritarianism” of the Haitian government by supporting activities to strengthen the country’s political parties and the independent media.

Franco said that the country’s direction “now depends on whether the government can establish a climate for free and fair elections” in 2003 and secure the participation of Haiti’s opposition parties, many of which boycotted the election of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in November 2000.

The United States, said Franco in his April 2 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also keeps in contact with the Haitian human rights community and incorporates these groups whenever possible into USAID activities in Haiti.

Franco said that in addition to USAID’s work with Haitian civil society, the agency’s programs in Haiti are designed to meet essential humanitarian needs and generate employment “in a difficult economic environment.”

In another matter pertaining to Western Hemisphere relations, the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG) held a July 21-22 meeting in Washington to discuss the upcoming Special Summit of the Americas to be hosted by the government of Mexico.

The OAS said in a July 23 statement that the goal of the Special Summit is to address the current economic, social, and political challenges facing the region. The OAS said the Special Summit’s agenda will center on three issues — economic growth with equity, social development, and democratic governance.

The SIRG, which monitors implementation of the Summit of the Americas process and prepares reports for the hemisphere’s foreign ministers, was created following the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994 and holds about four regular meetings each year.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)