Originally: Letter to Ambassador Noriega
Honorable Roger Noriega
U.S. State Department
Dear Mr. Ambassador,
At the urging of Secretary Powell, the OAS Permanent Council will meet on December 3 to evaluate the OAS mission in Haiti. Group 184 would like to take this opportunity to express its concerns and those of the Haitian people regarding the deteriorating political and social environment that currently prevails in Haiti.
We share these thoughts in the hope that the Permanent Council will reconsider its current strategy regarding the political crisis in Haiti, building on lessons learned and the window of opportunity created by the unification of traditionally divided sectors of Haitian society though the Group of 184.
As you well know, after eighteen months, none of the resolutions voted by the Permanent Council has been implemented. The Haitian Government has ramped up its campaign to systematically suppress human rights, while thugs close to the Lavalas Party impose, through violence, their rule in the streets of Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitian, Petit-Goave, St- Marc and other cities of the country with the sometimes-obvious complicity of the Haitian police force. Most Haitians, as they struggle with day-to-day frustrations, believe that the country is no closer to a peaceful solution today then it was two years ago. All hope for sustainable change is slowly fading away and hundred of families are contemplating the possibility of permanently leaving the country. Meanwhile, the OAS special mission to Haiti has remained ineffective, passive and complaisant.
Early on in the Haitian crisis, most stakeholders agreed that four important areas needed to be reinforced in order to ensure free and fair elections and an irreversible trend towards democratization. These areas were the basis of the special mission?s mandate and essential components of Resolutions 806, 822 and 1959. After eighteen months and over $6 million, there are no indications that the country is moving toward democracy.
1. An un-politicized and professional police force
The Mission?s first and probably most important task was to help professionalize and depoliticize the Haitian national police force. To further this strategic objective Jean-Robert Faveur, recognized as one of the few independent officers of the police force, was nominated by President Aristide, in consultation with the OAS mission, to serve as chief of police. Within days of his nomination, he was forced into exile while denouncing Mr. Aristide?s constant interference with the management of the national police in violation of both text and spirit of agreements with the international community. He was unilaterally replaced by the current chief of police in violation of the internal rules and regulation of the Police.This nomination opened the way for known criminals to be promoted to important positions in the police force, thugs (chimeres) wearing police uniforms and carrying badges to carry out political assassinations, kidnappings and rapes and former police commissioners, involved in political assassinations and drug trafficking to be appointed by the Prime Minister to serve in the National Security Commission.
NCHR, a New York-based human rights organization, has published a report on the return of the ?Attaches? (see attachment 1) and an open letter to the current de facto director general of the police (see Attachment 2) detailing the role of the chimeres and several police officers in active political repression.
IMED, a Haiti-based human rights organization, has also published a number of credible reports on human rights violations and the politicization of the police. The reports also cover the recent violence by the chimeres in Gonaives, Cap- Haitien, Port-au-Prince, Petit-Goave and other cities, clearly demonstrating that armed groups — for or against Lavalas — have all been armed by Mr.Aristide. The case of Amiot Metayer is one example where Mr.Aristide gave arms to the chimeres to kill members of civil society and the political opposition( see report of OAS inquiry comission on Decmeber 17th events) . This case and others prove that the chimeres, the former FRAPH members and former military members have been armed and used by one group: the Lavalas (see Attachment 3 for Anne Fuller?s recent op-ed in the Miami Herald and Attachment 4 for the Economist Intelligence Unit report).
Many of these perpetrators are willing to testify to these abuses, but the OAS has ignored these opportunities to gather credible information and increase effective pressure on the government to change its ways.
In this area as in others, the OAS has proven itself to be powerless in stopping the repressive mechanisms assembled by Mr. Aristide to intimidate, murder and imprison his political opponents. In recent months, both the national and international press have extensively documented abuses by police officers stationed all over the country. Some of the more notorious include violent disruption of peaceful demonstrations, arbitrary arrest and intimidation of political militants and murder.
Considering its privileged position, the OAS has yet to publish a report detailing the politicization of the police and more specifically, to denounce who is responsible for this politicization. This is in sharp contrast to the military ?coup d?etat? period of 1993 to 1995, when the OAS mission routinely published reports identifying repressors and called for accountability and justice. These reports not only publicly denounced those responsible for civil rights violations but also contributed greatly to the protection of peaceful citizens and political militants. Unfortunately, the current mission has not continued to publicly denounce these acts. Common perception is that they are trying to placate the government. While the bloodshed continues, the OAS has actually called for civil society groups to negotiate with their oppressors resulting in the impression that the OAS is not only legitimizing the human rights violations of the Aristide government, but is also putting the perpetrators and victims in the same basket. This process is eroding the credibility of the OAS.
2. An un-politicized and professional judicial system.
NCHR recently published an open letter to Santiago Canton of the OAS detailing Mr.Aristide?s efforts to politicize the judicial system (see Attachment 5). The government continues to use the judicial system (through illegal replacement of unqualified judges), telecommunications offices (CONATEL), and other public resources and governmental institutions to repress, intimidate and illegally arrest Haitian citizens. Despite the arbitrary nature of these arrests, prisoners who receive court orders for release remain in jail. Several prosecutors involved in high visibility political investigation that choose to distribute justice according to the rule of law and not political influences have been forced in to exile. Their testimonies have been well publicized by both the local and international press.
Recent reports from the Haitian bar associations denounce the fact that the judicial system has become a political tool in the hands of one man.
Here again, the OAS has remained silent. In fact, the OAS representative in Haiti clearly stated to our delegation that the only action they could take was to make closed-door recommendations to the government and issue statements ?deploring? the situation. This process further erodes the OAS mission?s credibility.
3. Conditions for fair and credible elections
Today, most if not all Haitians agree that the current environment is not conducive to free and fair elections. The basic requirement of: right to peaceful assembly without any form of intimidation and the right to free speech are consistently violated. Political violence and intimidation are perpetrated against political parties and their members on a daily basis. The idea that political parties can freely set up offices and campaign in remote parts of Haiti is ludicrous. In fact the government has consistently disrupted peaceful events when the international community as a whole has called publicly for restraint.
Yet the OAS mission continues to maintain that the main obstacle to forming the electoral council is civil society organizations’ and political parties’ reluctance to comply with OAS resolutions signed between OAS and the Haitian government during the crisis and at the exclusion of political parties and civil society.
The 1997 and 2000 elections demonstrate that when the right conditions are not in place, candidates and voters lose their lives, electoral officials are threatened by the government for nonpartisanship and forced to seek exile, vote rigging is undertaken by the government and the police, and financial resources and international aid is wasted.
USAID typically provides US$30 million ? or 92 percent of the overall international aid for the organization of each election in Haiti. From 1990 to present, USAID spent about US$150 million on elections in Haiti with nothing to show for it: no credible results; no infrastructure; no trained personnel; no registration lists; and, no computers. And worse, the electoral system has completely lost its credibility in the eyes of the Haitian voters.
In these circumstances, the institutions called upon to delegate members to the CEP have refused to expose the lives of citizens when convinced that their homes can be burned, their lives can be threatened or lost, even while the international community is watching and ?deploring.?
The OAS mission has never called for government accountability on the implementation of OAS resolutions. The government has not only violated all of the above-mentioned resolutions, but has declared resolution 822 to be ?dead? (see Attachment 6 for the statement of Jonas Petit, head of Lavalas Party, on August 1, 2003 on Radio Metropole). Still the OAS has not called for accountability. One note of hope is the rising consensus and unity among civil society and political parties for the need of free, fail and technically acceptable election that will deter disagreements in the future.
4. Political Compromise
Since the establishment of the mission, there has been a systematic assault against civil rights perpetrated by the Haitian government. Citizens, students, peasants, union leaders, business people, journalists, women?s leaders, priests, preachers, and even children have been forced in to exile, burned, beaten, killed and illegally imprisoned. In the face of these consistent atrocities, the mission continues to ?deplore? one day while expressing support for the aggressors the next. One of the shortcomings of the current mission is its incapacity to provide effective assistance to persecuted citizens in Haiti, as has been the case in the past.
There is no indication that a political compromise can be reached in these circumstances. The government seems confident that it will not pay a price for delaying a peaceful solution to the political impasse; the mission is comfortable in equally distributing blame while the Haitian people continue to pay a heavy price.
Our greatest fear is that the divisive political discourse coupled with the ?laissez faire? attitude of the OAS mission and the deteriorating political environment lead to complete chaos and social confrontation.
In recent weeks, more and more Haitians from all walks of life have mobilized to rescue their democracy and restore stability in order to organize free and fair elections and have legitimately elected officials representing their political will and fighting for their needs. Testimony of their courage and commitment can be seen inside the courthouses, during rallies and even inside the police commissariat.
The government has responded with violence, human rights abuses and intimidation. A clear example is the recent historic gathering called by Group 184 to discuss a new social contract. The event was met with the enthusiasm of most Haitians and supported by religious figures, political parties and civil society organizations. Still under the watchful eye of the OAS mission, the gathering was violently disrupted by thugs close to the government. Similar incidents have been noted in Cap-Haitian, Petit Goave, St-Marc and Jacmel.
The passivity and sometimes ambiguous position of the OAS mission has fuelled the political machinery of the Lavalas Party and Mr. Arisitde, giving them the mistaken impression that they will not be held accountable for their actions.
In fact in recent months, the Lavalas Party has taken steps to reinforce its hold on power. Indeed, the Haitian people?s greatest victory in their quest for democracy is the Constitution ratified in 1987. The most important element of the Constitution is the safety mechanism put in place by the framers outlining the procedures for amendment. The safety mechanism takes into account the fact that Haitian rulers have historically made efforts to stay in power for life by amending the constitution. The constitution requires that two democratically elected parliaments and two democratically-elected successive presidents approve the amendment.
Under the initiative of Jean Bertrand Aristide, illegitimate parliamentarians have illegally amended the Constitution in violation of this provision, the democratic charter of the OAS and resolutions 806, 822 and 1959. The illegal amendment partially passed by these parliamentarians modifies the requirements for amending the 1987 Constitution and paves the way for dictatorship. The OAS mission has been silent on this appalling violation of democratic principles and merely mentioned it in passing in their last report.
Based on the above observations, Group 184 urges the Permanent Council to reconsider both the mandate and the means of the special mission. More then ever the OAS Permanent Council needs to send a clear and straightforward signal that human rights violations will not be tolerated, excused or forgotten. Autonomy and capacity to observe, document and deter political violence are paramount to the success of international efforts in Haiti. A mission crippled both by lack of means and political will only worsens the general climate by legitimizing the actions of the government. As president, Mr Aristide should be held accountable for his dilatory tactics and for his refusal to comply with OAS resolutions.
History has shown us that only when the international community is unified in its indignation and condemnation of human rights violations, do governments understand the need for change.
We appreciate your continued support of our efforts to restore democracy to Haiti and hope that you find these comments and observations useful in your evaluation of the OAS mission. If you have any questions, comments or need for additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us.
For Groupe 184,
Mr Antoine Barbier