Originally: If democracy is to succeed in Haiti, the US and its allies must invest substantially in the development of neutral police forces and courts.
Statement of Jocelyn McCalla, Executive Director – National Coalition for Haitian Rights
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide?s autocratic rule is nearly over. Rebels have taken control of several towns in the Artibonite and the Central Plateau regions. In Cap-Haitien, Haiti?s second largest city, police officers fearing a rebel assault have all but given up policing. Reports indicate that elsewhere in the south and the Grande Anse, police units have abandoned their posts.
Increasingly pressed to intervene in Haiti, the US, France, Canada and Caribbean allies have put before President Aristide and the democratic opposition a plan to resolve the political impasse. This plan allegedly gives the opposition greater control of government while preserving Aristide?s presidency for a full term. The plan excludes talks with the rebels, a marriage-of-convenience alliance of former Aristide thugs and paramilitary officers, who have vowed to lay down their weapons only when Aristide resigns.
Whether Aristide leaves now or later, internationally-brokered agreements to resolve the political conflicts must be backed immediately by substantial investment in the development of neutral police forces and courts. They must in turn be shielded from political interference, led by trained and competent individuals, free to initiate or pursue investigations into corruption and human rights abuses, and prosecute these matters to satisfactory conclusions no matter who is involved. Without such an investment, Haiti won?t have much of a democracy.
During President Aristide?s second term of office, the judicial system has experienced little improvement. The administration of justice is today peopled with judges owing their postings to cronyism and political affiliation more than training, knowledge and experience with law-enforcement.
The Haitian National Police has also lost much credibility and authority. Weakened by corruption, presidential interference and politicization, its ranks have swelled since 2001 with the incorporation of units called ?special brigades? that operate outside of the law. As documented in a report released in August 2003 by NCHR-Haiti, the Haiti affiliate of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, these brigades function in much the same manner as the infamous attachés of past military rule and the tontons macoutes of the Duvalier era. They have been involved in rape, robberies, extrajudicial executions, kidnappings, drug-trafficking and political persecution. They have hard carte blanche to support the party in power since the President launched a zero-tolerance policy in 2001. The chimères, pro-Aristide street toughs, operating with the President?s blessings, function in much the same way and enjoy much impunity. Aristide has publicly associated with their leaders at formal gatherings in the presidential palace, casting them as grassroots popular support. In Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, these gangs have sidelined the police and taken over patrolling the streets, determined to suppress protest rallies and marches by any means available: rocks, bottles, bullets, machetes, death and destruction.
Reversing Haiti?s descent into despotism will require much more than admonitions from the US and its allies. In addition to the firm commitment of all the protagonists in the political conflict to end the violence and submit to the rule of law, steady, international and meaningful peace-building support will be the crucial factor in ensuring peace, stability and reconciliation.
For further information, contact:
National Coalition for Haitian Rights
275 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10001
W: (212) 337-0005; Fax: (212) 741-8749