New Haiti protest rules
Police force reform, prisoner release among Aristide’s
‘commitments’ By Mindell Small
Guardian Staff Reporter
Prime Minister Perry Christie said Sunday that harsh rules governing demonstrations by opposition groups in Haiti were expected to be replaced.
During a press briefing in the VIP lounge at Nassau International on his return from a one-day Caribbean Community meeting in Kingston, Jamaica Saturday that included Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Mr. Christie said the Haitian leader had “committed” to a number of CARICOM recommendations.
These included: Release of detainees who had been ordered freed; reform of the police force; disarming “strong-arm” groups; internationally-monitored elections, and a pledge by Mr. Aristide that neither he, nor his wife, would seek the Haitian presidency after Mr. Aristide’s term expired in two years’ time.
Mr. Christie said that new procedures being formulated would be designed to ensure orderly protests, and ensure the safety of protesters without infringing on their rights to agitate peacefully.
Opposition groups in Haiti have complained of being discriminated against when they sought permission to demonstrate and that police did not provide adequate security.
Described as “successful” and “a decisive step forward”, the meeting also comprised several Caribbean Community leaders, including: CARICOM chairman and Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson; Trinidad and Tobago‘s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, and St. Lucia‘s Prime Minister, Kenny Anthony.
Mr. Christie said that the key element in “the plan of prior actions” is for the international community to try and engage all sides in a dialogue that would lead to rules-based demonstrations.
He said President Aristide has committed himself to working with the international community to establish the new rules.
During the weekend meeting, Mr. Christie said, the views of the opposition in Haiti following consultations with them in Nassau and Haiti, were relayed to Mr. Aristide.
“I am happy to report that in Kingston, President Aristide committed himself to a detailed plan of prior actions, that if implemented should set the stage for the peaceful resolution of the political crisis in
Haiti,” Mr. Christie said. “We cannot yet declare victory, but we can cautiously embrace this next step as a necessary one to get to where we need to go.”
Due process for detainees
Mr. Christie said that President Aristide has also committed himself to the release of detainees who are the subject of judicial release orders, and to the timely processing of those who are arrested, bringing them before the courts within 48 hours.
“Those who the opposition allege have been illegally or arbitrarily detained should be subject immediately to due process and, where ordered to be released, should be released,” he said.
Two more years
President Aristide also publicly declared that when his term of office expires on February 7, 2006, he would not seek re-election.
Nor would his wife, it was added facetiously, as she had no interest in becoming President of Haiti.
President Aristide also committed to disarming strong-arm groups by March 15, Mr. Christie said, and will publish later this month the results of inquiries into attacks on the opposition, including attacks on students in the State University of Haiti in December and assaults on radio transmission towers in January.
Mr. Aristide also pledged to try and make the police force a more professional body by becoming a fair and politically neutral institution, serving all the Haitian people, it was announced.
Additionally, President Aristide agreed to work in consultation with the opposition to appoint a new government that has broad-based support in the country and to conform fully to CARICOM’s Charter of Civil Society.
Elections, Mr. Christie said, were expected to be held “as soon as possible”, with Mr. Aristide noting that an earlier six months timeframe was not a “promise” but a “hope”.
According to Mr. Christie, “It is only through elections that the questions of political power can be settled. There must be security
in place for elections. There must be a Provisional Electoral Council. To assist the president in this regard, he has agreed to the establishment of an advisory council that will act in the place of the Parliament, the mandate for most of its members having expired.”
Mr. Christie said that The Bahamian embassy in Port-au-Prince will also have an increased presence in the short term.
Additionally, CARICOM and observers from the international community, including the United States, the European Union, and the Organisation of American States, have also pledged to support Haiti‘s efforts to obtain economic assistance.
Too, the international community has pledged to remain engaged in Haiti by fostering dialogue between the opposing groups in Haiti in an attempt to move the electoral process forward.
The entire electoral process is expected to take some time, with opposition groups not as yet having named their election candidates, expressing fears they still do not completely trust the mechanism proposed for establishing the electoral process.
However, CARICOM hoped to encourage them to participate and to have faith that the measures implemented would be fair.
The Bahamas has pledged, along with its CARICOM allies, and within the context of the Organisation of American States, to continue to remain engaged in Haiti talks.
Mitchell to lead
Following up on that pledge, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell will be heading a delegation to Haiti on Tuesday to meet again with opposition groups.
The team will include Assistant Secretary General of CARICOM, Colin Granderson and a representative of the Trinidadian government.
Among other matters, Minister Mitchell will discuss the results of the Kingston meeting with the opposition leaders.
CARICOM has tentatively planned another meeting with Haiti‘s opposition this month.
Jamaican Prime Minister Patterson said, “We have an expression here in Jamaica: One hand can’t clap,” intimating that a solution to the political crisis could not be expected to be achieved as a result of one or two meetings with a particular group.
However, the meeting in Jamaica was a decisive step forward in building confidence with Haiti, he said.
Caption: Photo by BIS / Peter Ramsay