Michael Deibert, Human Rights or Political Gamesmanship?
Marina Jimenez, Author of Lancet Article Investigated, Toronto Globe & Mail, Sept. 7, 2006
UK medical journal investigating author of Haiti study
September 7, 2006
British medical journal The Lancet said Thursday it is investigating an
alleged conflict of interest by an author of a report in the current issue
that claims 8,000 people were slain under Haiti’s interim government.
A critic of the study accused one of the report’s authors of being a
supporter of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose ouster
following a violent uprising led to the installation of the U.S.-backed
interim government that ran the country from 2004 to 2006.
Astrid James, a deputy editor of The Lancet, said the journal is
investigating the allegations “as quickly as we can,” but still stands by
the report, which also said up to 35,000 women were sexually abused while
the interim government ruled the troubled Caribbean nation.
“We’re obviously concerned by what we’ve heard and we’re conducting our
investigation and we have asked for more information from the authors,”
James said from the journal’s London headquarters.
The journal took the action after learning that Athena Kolbe, one of two
U.S. authors of the report, had volunteered in 1995 at an orphanage founded
by Aristide and has written articles in various newspapers in support of
Aristide while he was president and after.
Kolbe, a researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, denied
“There is no bias whatsoever,” she said. “We did absolutely nothing wrong.”
The report blamed half the killings and rapes on criminals, but said
Haitian police and anti-Aristide gangs were also involved and that U.N.
troops had threatened civilians. The study found that no killings and few
rights abuses were committed by supporters of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas
party ? despite claims to the contrary by international and local human
The report used a random sample method to question 5,720 Haitians in
Port-au-Prince about their experience after Aristide’s ouster.
Kolbe said she got to know Aristide when she volunteered 12 years ago at an
orphanage and has “very warm feelings” for the former president.
“That does not by any means mean that I’m a Lavalas supporter,” she said.
The researcher said she didn’t disclose her ties to Aristide with The
Lancet, saying “I didn’t see it as relevant.”
Kolbe said she had written articles about Haiti for several San Francisco
publications under the name “Lyn Duff.” She said her full name is Athena
Lyn Duff-Kolbe, but that she only uses Athena Kolbe in her academic work.
The Lancet report cites two articles by Lyn Duff as references, but doesn’t
disclose that Duff and Kolbe are the same person.
Doubts about Kolbe’s work were raised by Britain-based human rights
activist Charles Arthur, who sent a letter to The Lancet expressing concern
that the study tried to exonerate Aristide supporters even though
independent human rights workers say they committed killings and rapes
after the revolt.
“How can the survey be regarded as objective if the main person
coordinating the survey hides her very pronounced political sympathies by
using a different name?” Arthur wrote.