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#584: WPOST on HNP 092899 From Slavin (fwd)
From: Patrick Slavin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Haiti's U.S.-Trained Police Accused of Lawlessness
By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 28, 1999; Page A1
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti?Created four years ago to usher in a
new era of impartial justice, the U.S.-trained Haitian National Police force is
grappling with allegations that its officers have been involved in a wave of
murders, disappearances of detainees, drug-related crimes and other illegal
After 20,000 troops, mostly Americans, dismantled a
military dictatorship in 1994 and reinstated Haiti's first democratically
elected president, the new police department was to be the cornerstone of
justice reform. And even its harshest critics have welcomed the new force as an
alternative to the repressive security forces that traumatized Haiti during the
military government and the earlier dictatorships of Francois Duvalier and his
son and successor, Jean-Claude.
But the implication of members of the new police force in
human rights abuses and other illegal activities has focused concern on police
lawlessness and raised questions about the department's ability to become an
effective and credible force despite the sizable assistance provided by the
United States and other countries.
"If you are asking me whether I am more concerned about rot
in the police than a year ago, the answer is yes," said Colin Granderson,
executive director of an international civilian mission here run by the
Organization of American States and the United Nations. "We have both human
rights concerns and concerns about the broader conduct of officers, specifically
with respect to criminal activity, in particular drug smuggling."
A lot is at stake, not only for this Caribbean nation of 7
million people, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, but also for the
United States, which has spent about $75 million to help train and build the
The alleged police transgressions have further eroded
confidence in the department among the Haitian public, which already is widely
distrustful of state security. "For me, I feel fear when I see their guns and
their dark sunglasses. I want to trust them more and have freedom without
worries that they will harm me. But there are too many bad stories," said
Raymond Jean, 24, a Port-au-Prince shoeshine man.
From April through June alone, 50 killings, many of them
summary executions, were attributed to police, compared to 31 for all of last
year, according to Haitian and international investigators. Observers said the
sharp increase in part reflects the heightened state of insecurity.
In a case that has drawn widespread attention, a number of
officers under the command of Jean Coles Rameau, the Port-au-Prince police
commissioner, are under investigation in the deaths of 11 detainees on the night
of May 28 in the Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhood.
Seven officers have been arrested in connection with the
slayings, including Rameau, who had fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic
before he was apprehended and extradited. An eighth officer is at large after
escaping from custody. The government has named a special three-judge panel to
investigate the killings.
Allegations of police involvement in the drug trade have
continued to surface in a country that has become a major transshipment point
for cocaine and heroin bound for the United States from South America. Last
week, four police officials were dismissed on suspicion of trafficking, a week
after a half-dozen officers were arrested on charges of stealing hundreds of
pounds of cocaine found on a boat docked in the northern city of Cap Haitien.
Investigators also have received information about
plainclothes officers working with illegal vigilante groups that have recently
reemerged in some communities, ostensibly in response to an increase in crime.
According to a report last month by the international civilian mission,
residents in the Port-au-Prince slum of Cite Soleil said 16 people were killed
recently by one of the groups headed by police officers.
"Haiti has an authoritarian history, and it is easy to fall
back into old practices," said Viles Alizar, coordinator of monitoring for the
National Coalition for Haitian Rights. "We know the police are not an army, but
they can act very much like one."
Although U.S. officials have expressed frustration over
criminal behavior by officers, they said that in the case of human rights abuses
the culprits appear to have been acting without official approval.
"The key is that there is no systematic violation of human
rights," said U.S. Ambassador Timothy M. Carney, adding, "What is encouraging is
that when there are abuses they move to address them."
The police department has been cited for good work --
including seizures of drugs headed for the United States -- despite its
limitations; it has been hampered by inexperience and poor resources, ranging
from inadequate manpower to a lack of basic equipment.
Officers also have to contend with the impunity enjoyed by
many criminals at the hands of corrupt judges in a dysfunctional justice system.
Officers are paid about $300 a month, a salary far above Haiti's annual per
capita income of $250 but still considered very low.
The police department has dismissed more than 530 officers
over the last four years for corruption, abuse of power and other disciplinary
infractions. Of that total, 54 are awaiting trial. Because the officers were
removed, the size of the force has decreased just as it is facing a surge in
crime and violence stemming in part from political instability. The department
is scrambling to devise a security plan for upcoming parliamentary elections.
Officials said the number of police officers has dropped
from a high of more than 6,500 about 20 months ago to roughly 6,000 today,
although police personnel and international observers say the figure is probably
lower. "I am concerned about the numbers." said Robert Manuel, secretary of
state for public security. "We have to train even more officers, but we do not
have the resources."
Officials say it is doubtful that the police force will be
able to reach its goal of between 9,500 and 10,000 officers by 2003. "Our view
is that they are not doing enough to maintain, let alone build," said Gary
Bennett, manager of the U.S. Justice Department police training program in
Haiti. "We are at the hardest point of development."
Officers say their jobs have been made more dangerous by
the 300 or so Haitian criminals deported each year from the United States and
elsewhere and because the United States failed to disarm state security forces
after reinstating president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1994. Since the force's
first officers were deployed, 59 have been killed.
Manuel and Police Chief Pierre Denize have been the targets
of a public campaign -- attributed to members of Fanmi Lavalas, the party headed
by Aristide -- that has been described as an effort to destabilize and
politicize the police to pave the way for Aristide's return to the presidency.
Aristide, who spent three years in exile in the United
States after he was ousted in a military coup in 1992, remains popular among the
country's poor and is heavily favored to win next year's presidential election.
Fanmi Lavalas has denied any involvement in the campaign against the police.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company