Haiti Archives 1995-1996
28/02/96 U.S.-HAITI: Human Rights Group Voices Concern Over U.S.-Held Documents by Jim Lobe

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (IPS) – The administration of President Bill Clinton is placing unreasonable conditions on the return to Haiti of thousands of documents seized by U.S. soldiers from pro- military militias and the Haitian army 15 months ago, according to a major U.S. human rights group.

In a letter to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said that Washington’s ‘’refusal to return the seized documents on acceptable terms represents a concrete impediment to ending impunity for political violence.’’

It called for the immediate return of the documents to the government of President Rene Preval ‘’consistent with a policy that places top priority on establishing the rule of law in Haiti.’’

The rights group’s appeal follows protracted negotiations between Washington and the Haitian government over the return of an estimated 150,000 pages of documents seized by U.S. soldiers from the Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress (FRAPH) and the Haitian army.

FRAPH, a para-military group allied to the junta which ruled Haiti from 1991 until the U.N.-backed U.S. intervention in Sep. 1994, has been accused of responsibility for as many as 3,000 killings of suspected supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during military rule.

The Haitian government has demanded the return of the documents, of which it became aware only last summer, in order to identify possible armed threats from former FRAPH members and ex- soldiers. Because the U.S.-led forces did not aggressively disarm FRAPH and other pro-army elements, the authorities believe that substantial numbers of arms remain at large.

The Haitian Truth and Justice Commission, which earlier this month called for the United Nations to set up a special tribunal for crimes against humanity committed under the military regime, has also urged that the documents be promptly returned.

But, despite a finding by the Congressional Research Service that the documents legally belong to the Haitian government, the administration has dragged its feet. After a long internal battle between the Pentagon, which opposed returning the documents, and the State Department, the administration announced late last year that the documents would be returned, but only under certain conditions.

Those conditions have been laid out in an eight-point Memorandum of Understanding which restricts the use of and access to the documents. Among other provisions, for example, it says they may be used ‘’exclusively for legitimate law enforcement purposes, other legal actions, and official investigations of human rights violations’’.

To receive the documents, the Haitian government must ensure that they ‘’will not be made public or otherwise disseminated in such a way as to risk unlawful repercussions or abuses,’’ according to a copy of the Memorandum provided to IPS by Human Rights Watch.

In addition, the proposed Memorandum permits the U.S. government ‘’to delete or remove names or other information identifying individual U.S. citizens.’’

While sympathising with Washington’s desire to ensure that individuals named in the documents are not subject to vigilante justice, critics, including Human Rights Watch, accuse the administration of baser motives.

These ‘’restrictions apparently serve the separate and illegitimate purpose of covering up possible U.S. complicity in political murder and other abuses, particularly the apparent involvement of U.S. intelligence agents,’’ the Human Rights Watch letter charges.

The agency’s suspicions have been amply fuelled by revelations over the past nine months regarding the involvement of U.S. intelligence agencies with para-military groups, including FRAPH.

The main witness on that involvement is no less than FRAPH’s founder and leader, Emmanuel ‘’Toto’’ Constant, who fled Haiti for the United States shortly after Aristide was restored. Early last year, Constant was arrested by U.S. officials and has since been awaiting deportation to Haiti in a holding facility outside Washington.

Constant has testified that he first began working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1992 but had cultivated close contacts for some time before that with officials of the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). Those contacts were first disclosed 15 months ago in The Nation weekly by investigative reporter Alan Nairn.

The intelligence agencies themselves have not denied their relationship with Constant. But they have insisted they did not directly support FRAPH and its terrorist activities.

Nairn reported earlier this month that Constant had contacted him from jail last Dec. 7 and offered to reveal ‘’everything’’ about his relationship with U.S. intelligence. When Nairn tried to follow up with a face-to-face meeting, the U.S. immigration authorities denied him access.

Nairn subsequently learned from internal documents that the administration agreed Dec. 11 to arrange special treatment for his deportation to Haiti. He will return aboard a U.S. government plane with ‘’V.I.P.’’ security and ‘’no advance notice’’ to the authorities in Port-au-Prince and will be processed into the country ‘’at an isolated location,’’ according to Nairn.

Documents obtained by the New York Times earlier this month in connection with an on-going lawsuit by a FRAPH victim show that both the CIA and the DIA had a broad network of informants within FRAPH and the army.

When U.S. soldiers went to Haiti in Sep. 1994, they were told by their officers that FRAPH was a legitimate political party and should be treated as such. It was only when U.S. intelligence intercepted an Oct. 1994 radio conversation between Constant and other FRAPH leaders in which they discussed attacking U.S. forces that the official view changed. (END/IPS/JL/YJC/96)

Origin: Washington/U.S.-HAITI/ ----

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