Haiti Archives 1995-1996

HAITI: UPDATE April 6, 1995

I. News Briefs

1. On March 31, the peace-keeping mission was transfered from the United States command to the jurisdiction of the United Nations. United States President Bill Clinton traveled to Haiti to witness the transfer.

2. The OAS/UN International Civilian Mission stated on March 13, 1995, that the general human rights situation has improved considerably since the return of constitutional order, and that the systematic abuse of human rights perpetrated by state agents has ended.

3. President Aristide has been nominated for the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize by former Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias and by several members of the US Congress. "President Aristides nonviolent opposition to the military junta in Port-au-Prince, his unflagging commitment to Haitian democracy, and his constant belief in his people and willingness to work with the international community mark him as a true peacemaker", said Arias in his letter to the Nobel Institute.

4. Insecurity remains a paramount concern for most Haitians, matched only by the cost of living and unemployment. Zenglendos and armed civilians continue to perpetrate violent acts and assassinations.

5. Lawyer Mireille Durocher Bertin was killed by gunmen on March 28. The Haitian government had alerted Ms. Bertin of a possible plot and offered her protection, which was refused. The government of Haiti is committed to seeking justice in this case as in all criminal acts committed since the coup. An investigation is currently underway. The government continues to push for disarmament and is in the process of creating a functioning judicial system and police force in order to put an end to all such criminality.

6. In search of accountability and transparency, the Haitian government is carrying out an extensive evaluation of the performance of judges and prosecutors and has replaced officials who are unable or unwilling to participate in the long-awaited judicial reforms. The Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes is investigating claims of diversion of public funds during the three years following the coup. Also, the government of Haiti formally requested the extradition of FRAPH leader Emmanuel Constant, who remains at large in the United States.

7. The National Truth and Justice Commission was officially invested on March 30, 1995. The Commission will investigate human rights abuses that occurred during the coup regime and will help put and end to impunity for those responsible for executions, rapes, beatings, torture, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and other violations under the military regime.

II. Land Conflicts in the Artibonite Valley

Land reform has always been a key platform in the Haitian peoples long fight for economic justice. Since the coup ditat was reversed on October 15, 1994, the call of poor and landless peasant farmers for the return of their expropriated lands has intensified.

This appeal has been especially strong in the Artibonite Valley. The Artibonite has historically produced two items in quantity: rice and blood. The two are not unrelated, with conflict over control of Haiti's most fertile land underpinning most of the violence and repression.

In the past few months, much blood has been flowing, most of it from peasants. The victims of continous moral and physical abuse are largely peasants belonging to popular organizations, according to a press release issued by the OAS/UN International Civilian Mission on March 13, 1995. The release states that "The land conflicts… have become a factor of instabiliy and violence. These conflicts are all the more dangerous when, sometimes pitting small peasants who are reclaiming the democratic sector against the large landholders who are partisans of the former regime, they take on a political aspect."

Traditionally in Haiti, local powers — a triumverate of large landowners, government functionaries, and the security apparatus which serves them (soldiers, Tonton Macoutes, and attachis) — have used weapons and control of the state system to seize peasants' land at will. Much of the land was illegally consolidated under the thirty-year Duvalier dictatorship. As landholdings have become increasingly concentrated, more and more peasants have been forced off their own land, either to become ever-more-indebted tenant farmers or to join the ranks of those in Port-au-Prince seeking a US$1.07-a-day job in a multinational assembly factory.

Haiti's recent environmental crisis has compounded land pressures, mounting the stakes in the land reform movement. Only 1% to 3% of Haiti's land still has forest cover, while soil erosion produces fewer and fewer crops for the rapidly growing population. According to the United Nations Development Program, 6% of Haitian territory is completely stripped of arable land.

As early as the 1800s, one of Toussaint L'Ouverture's first acts in newly independent Haiti was to nationalize all of Haiti's productive land. After Louvertures arrest and extradition to France, Jean-Jacques Dessalines ordered a thorough land redistribution program. Two of Haiti's best known peasant organizers of the l800's, Goman and Accau, built movements around land reform. The kako movement of l915 to l9l9 was composed of landless peasants, many of whose land had been expropriated by the U.S. Marines. After Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted in l986, one of the key demands of the popular democratic movement was to regain expropriated land and to reform the land tenure system.

The land reform movement in Haiti has consistently been violently crushed. One of the most violent acts that Haiti has seen since Duvalier occurred in Jean Rabel in July l987: Tonton Macoutes, backed by local landowners, massacred roughly 300 people, members of a peasant association which was demanding that stolen lands be returned.

During the coup period (September 1991-October 1994), the military and paramilitary attachis attempted to stamp out the land reform movement which blossomed under the first eight months of Aristide's presidency. One of the worst hit areas was the Artibonite Valley, where dozens of peasants were killed and wounded and over one thousand homes were burned.

In the past few months there has been a renewal of violence in the Artibonite, especially in Jean-Denis, Gervais, and Bocozelle. Haitian soldiers and attachis last fall repeatedly terrorized and attacked citizens. In November and December alone, over ten people were killed in Brizard-Blain. In Bocozelle, Multinational Forces troops illegally arrested peasants at the request of large landholders. The remnants of the old judicial system refused to arrest the offenders.

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Gonaives has urged the following:

— the systematic disarmament and retreat from the area of all Haitian soldiers and paramilitary attachis who served the former regime; — the urgent intervention by a governmental commission to examine the land tenure system; — the seizure and redistribution of illegally held land; and — reforms at the land tribunal and at the judiciary of Saint Marc.

Ending the long tradition of an authoritarian state —represented locally by the chef seksyon (section chiefs) and their attachis — at the service of the local large landholders is already a major accomplishment of the Aristide/Michel government. The process of building local democracy and mechanisms for political participation is allowing the peasants to end a tradition of marginalization, and is moving Haiti closer to the possibility of land justice. Some actions taken by the Aristide government toward this end:

1) Disbanding the chef seksyon system, responsible for much ot the politically-motivated repression and systematic human rights violations; 2) Beginning the process of reforming the local justice system and replacing corrupt judges; 3) Retiring military officers and redeploying some former soldiers into an interim police force, until the permanent civilian police force, under the control of the Ministry of Justice, is fully trained; 4) Sending two governmental delegations, led by Prime Minister Smarck Michel, to the Artibonite to investigate the crisis; 5) Forming a commission (including the Ministers of Justice, Interior, Defense, and Agriculture) to investigate each case of conflict in the Artibonite Valley; and

Before its efforts were truncated by the coup, the Aristide government had been working to find a resolution to the land conflict. In June 1991, a delegation composed of Prime Minister Reni Preval and the Ministers of Agriculture and Justice spent several days in the Artibonite, visiting towns where there had been outbreaks of violence over land, in an attempt to assess the situation and bring a peaceful solution. At that time, an arbiter was named and the land in question was divided among the conflicting parties. Two military stations were created to impede new conflicts. As a result of these unprecedented efforts, the people of the Artibonite experienced a rare freedom from violence until the coup of September 1991.

III. Insecurity Continues

Violence and insecurity continue throughout Haiti. Zenglendo (heavily armed and well-organized and equipped thugs who often worked with paramilitary attachis) are killing, raping, and robbing people in residences, businesses, city streets, and remote sections of rural roads. The attacks occur in broad daylight as well as in the dead of night. Some are directed against political activists, while others appear to be random. People from all sectors express fear.

Whether the attacks are political in intent, they are political in effect. Broad participation in the political and economic affairs of the country is dependent upon a populations ability to meet, speak, and circulate freely. The zenglendo activities threaten to disrupt not only the daily work of building democracy, but also a smooth and secure elections process. Their attempts to immerse the country in a state of instability seem to have the second intent of creating the perception that Haiti is an unstable country not ready for democracy.

There are hundreds of instances in which neighborhood groups have brought suspected criminals to Haitian or international authorities. However, some communities, frustrated with the inability of the security forces to control the crime, have sought to punish or thwart the criminals themselves.

The first step in stopping the violence is disarmament. That the well-organized networks are so highly armed allows them to act brazenly. On March 27, for example, a group of people opened fire with machine guns in broad daylight in Croix-des-Bossales, a densely populated neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince. To date, the international community has not appeared to recognize the necessity of continued disarmament to reduce the illegal weapons in circulation.

Some progress in law enforcement is being made. The government of Haiti is issuing arrest warrants, carrying out arrests, and revoking and replacing some judicial officials who failed to participate in the judicial reform. Haiti is on its way to breaking from a long tradition of autonomous "security" forces who act with impunity; a permanent, civilian police force is currently being trained and it is expected to be fully operative as of February 1996. Despite these measures, an effective way of controlling the zenglendo and providing protection to the people has not yet been found.

In the meantime, President Aristide has called upon the people to help reduce the high insecurity and organize neighborhood watch committees to work together with the security forces. President Aristide said on February 7, 1995:

"A neighborhood watch committee means that we work together in our neighborhood; we give support to the police force and together with the police force, together with the government, together with the MNF, we stand up as a cross in the face of insecurity, everywhere.

"Young people, adults, I invite you to show how we are a strong nation; how in order, in discipline, in the respect of everyone, we can work together with everyone, whether it is someone from Guantanamo, or a business person who is not a police member, or someone who is part of the MNF. I invite you all to talk, to work together – one supporting another – so that vigilance stops people who wish to establish more insecurity…"

The calls of the President for peace and security, and the progress made by the government of Haiti toward breaking up these networks are having an impact. However, the confiscation of illegal weapons must occur to ensure the consolidation of democracy. Until the new police force has been trained and deployed, more efforts will be needed from the international community — MINUHA and particularly the international police monitors — to disarm the paramilitary networks and groups of former military and attaches working in organized gangs and networks.

IV. Refugee Children in Guantanamo

"I am 17 years old. My mother and father are both dead. Our home was used as a voting bureau during the 1990 elections and so after the coup, in 1992, the military came to our home and shot my father. I saw him killed before my very eyes. Right after that, my mother and I went into hiding, but we went to two different places. The military found my mother and beat her so bad that a few days later she died in the hospital. … My older brother died at sea, when he was attempting to escape Haiti. … I am afraid to go back to Haiti, all my family has been killed. I have a relative in New York, please let me go there…. " (excerpt from an affidavit taken by a group of attorneys during a recent visit, Florida Rural Legal Services of Miami)

In March, the United States started deporting to Haiti unaccompanied children — most of whom do not have any remaining close relative or care-takers in Haiti — without access to full and fair asylum procedures, according to respected international human rights organizations.

Many of these children saw their parents brutally killed before their eyes. Others have themselves been victims of rape and torture. Most say that they are terrified to return home. These traumatized children — who fled Haiti because of physical and mental abuse by the military dictatorship — should not be deported to Haiti, based on humanitarian grounds as well as under international refugee principles. Rather, they should promptly be resettled in a third country in order to lessen the psychological hardships associated with the lengthy detention.

Approximately 300 minors (some of them as young as 6) remain in the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. Most have immediate family in the US willing to provide for them, according to attorneys who went on several fact-finding visits to Guantanamo. It is an established principle of refugee law that children should be reunited with their families wherever possible.

The US Catholic Conference has offered its full assistance in the resettlement of the minors in the US. The children would be reunited with family members or put in foster care mainly with Haitian families.

Two groups of unaccompanied minors were repatriated to Haiti, one on March 8 and the other on March 15. More children are expected to be returned by the US government unless they are granted humanitarian parole by the US Attorney General.

According to a letter addressed to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service by Deputy Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Kate Jastram Balian, "While the restoration of the democratically-elected government of Haiti and the presence of the MNF are positive developments, this Office believes that it would be clearly inappropriate to conclude generally that Haitian asylum-seekers would no longer face persecution upon return to Haiti." The report stresses that "in countries with long histories of severe political repression, the possibility of abuse and persecution can continue at local levels even when official policies and/or composition of governments at the top have changed."

Cuban children at the Guantanamo Naval Base have received completely different treatment. The US government has announced plans to admit to the US on humanitarian grounds all the unaccompanied Cuban minors held at Guantanamo.

More information on this situation can be obtained from attorney Sheryl Little at the Florida Rural Legal Services, phone: (305) 573-1106.

V. Update on the Elections

--- The election process is moving forward despite tremendous logistical problems faced by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). There are reports of attempts by FRAPH members and other anti-democratic forces to interfere with the process or to refuse to accept the process. These incidents are being investigated.

--- The CEP made some changes in the electoral schedule without affecting the date of the elections. The CEP has begun a public education campaign about all aspects of the elections for both prospective workers and candidates. The Council is holding regular meetings with representatives of Haitis political parties to ensure that all are invested in a fair process. Political parties, candidates, and private citizens are encouraged to register any complaints about perceived irregularities with the OAS/UN Civilian Mission.

--- The first political party alliance for the municipal and legislative elections scheduled for June 4 was announced on March 17. It is called Lavalas and includes the Lavalas Political Organization, the Movement to Organize the Country (MOP), the Open the Gates Party (Pati Louvri Barye), as well as popular organizations.

N.B. These materials are being distributed by the International Liaison Office for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The International Liaison Office is registered with the Department of Justice, Washington DC, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, as an agent of the Government of Haiti. The required registration statements are available for public inspection at the Department of Justice. Registration does not indicate approval of the contents of these materials by the United States Government.

INTERNATIONAL LIAISON OFFICE FOR PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE phone: (202) 965-0830 fax: (202) 965-0831 e-mail: ilophaiti@igc.apc.org

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