Originally: For Haiti to Live, the Rule of Law Must be Established Promptly

For Haiti to Live, the Rule of Law Must be Established Promptly

Statement of Jocelyn McCalla,
Executive Director, a.i.
National Coalition for Haitian Rights

New York, March 5, 2004 — After declaring his readiness to die in office to save democracy, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide decided to save himself  and perhaps Haiti by fleeing, albeit reluctantly, into exile. Unfortunately his departure is not the graceful exit that many peace-loving Haitians hoped for. In the wake of Aristide痴 presidency, Haiti is a divided nation filled with death and destruction, a shabby government, extremely weak law-enforcement and judicial institutions, and dreams deferred. There痴 a very real possibility that power will fall in the hands of rebels, whose past record of atrocities committed on behalf of military regimes and Aristide痴 rule indicate that the rule of law and respect for human rights are the least of their concerns. For democracy to take root in Haiti, establishing the rule of law and respect for human rights is however essential.

Three weeks ago, a small band of armed insurgents seized on widespread dissatisfaction with Aristide痴 government to rout the relatively small Haitian police units deployed outside of the capital. They quickly took control of a large portion of the country as the police force disintegrated and Aristide supporters failed to halt their advance.

The insurgents are not however gallant men driven by an unquestionable commitment to democracy. Their most prominent leaders are former police officer and alleged drug trafficker Guy Philippe, and paramilitary chief Jodel Chamblain whose group, FRAPH, terrorized Aristide supporters a decade ago in a belated attempt to maintain military rule in Haiti.

While political and civil society leaders are struggling to work out the details of a post-Aristide environment, Philippe and Chamblain have moved quickly to project themselves as Haiti痴 newest liberators. They have called for the reinstatement of the Haitian army.  And their men, together with vigilantes, have deliberately clashed with and killed Aristide痴 chim鑽es in Port-au-Prince痴 shantytowns. Reports indicate that they have arbitrarily arrested Mr. Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, director of the Haitian Government痴 Office Nationale de la Migration, and threatened to seize all other Aristide government ministers.

We have also been informed that Lavalas gang leader Franco Camille was released from jail on March 2, on the orders of Lavalas Party Senator Dany Toussaint, long suspected of involvement in the murder of democracy activist and journalist Jean Dominique. Mr. Camille has allegedly been involved in murders and mayhem under Aristide and was recently arrested for illegal firearms possession.

The United States has moved quickly to deploy marines to fill the security gap in the capital. We are pleased that the United Nations has authorized a multinational peacekeeping force of up to 5,000 in Haiti. In addition to the US, Canada, Chile and France have committed several hundred troops to the Haiti mission. Although their ground presence has perhaps convinced the rebel leaders to lay down their weapons and stop laying claims to power, more troops are needed immediately to assist with disarmament and the reestablishment of peace, justice and reconciliation in Haiti, especially in Haiti痴 provincial capitals where there痴 no government control. Stopping revenge killings, arbitrary arrests or prisoner releases are matters needing urgent attention if the rule of law is to prevail.

Haiti is perhaps facing its most severe crisis to date. In addition to a functioning, accountable and responsive government, its people need emergency humanitarian assistance to meet basic food, shelter, medical and potable water needs among other things. Thus, we support efforts to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to Haiti and urge Haitians to contribute as much as possible to such efforts.

Meanwhile, we urge the United States to halt all repatriations of Haitian refugees intercepted at sea, and to grant them asylum. We also urge the Bush Administration to grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians who are here in the US for a period of no less than 18 months.

Haitians in the US are ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and contribute their skills, talents and good will to building a truly democratic and economically viable Haitian society. We call for a solid partnership with the US government in jointly formulating and implementing comprehensive responses to building the nation of Haiti. And we look forward to the day when a peaceful environment will allow the holding of democratic elections again in Haiti