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6968: Human Rights Watch Backgrounder (fwd)

From: nozier <nozier@tradewind.net>

Aristide's Return to Power in Haiti
 Human Rights Watch Backgrounder  February 2001

  When Jean-Bertrand Aristide is sworn in for a second term as  Haitian
president on Wednesday, February 7, he will face a  number of pressing
challenges in the areas of human rights   and democracy. The country's
democratic institutions, fragile to begin with, were seriously weakened
over the course of  2000. Human rights conditions worsened considerably,
with  Haitians enduring a continuing series of killings, assaults,
threats and other forms of intimidation.  Perhaps the year's most
shocking event was the assassination of acclaimed journalist Jean
Dominique, a  murder that has yet to be solved. But the year 2000 also
saw the April burning of the headquarters of the opposition coalition,
the deeply flawed May elections, the June flight into exile of the
president of the electoral council, and the  November pipe bomb
explosions that killed two children and   wounded numerous others, as
well as a succession of violent  street demonstrations that went largely
unchallenged by the   Haitian National Police. The spectre of violence
persisted in  2001, particularly after a January 9th press conference
at  which popular organizations supporting President-elect  Aristide
issued verbal threats against numerous journalists    and members of
opposition parties.
 President-elect Aristide recently indicated his awareness of  the need
for reform in Haiti. During December meetings with   U.S. Special Envoy
Tony Lake, Aristide committed to   undertake a series of steps to remedy
the country's  problems. The issues he outlined ? which include
remedying  the results of the May 2000 elections, professionalizing
the    police and judiciary, and strengthening democratic  institutions
? are crucial ones. His effectiveness in addressing  these issues will
be a key measure of his government.
 Aristide enters the presidency with the support of a nearly  one-party
parliament. Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family),  Aristide's party, holds
twenty-six of twenty-seven Senate       seats and nearly all of the
seats in the lower house. At the   local level, the opposition has
somewhat more of a foothold,  although the overwhelming majority of
local elected officials  are members of Fanmi Lavalas. In short,
President-elect  Aristide enjoys ample political power to make good on
the  reforms he has promised.
  Below, Human Rights Watch outlines the critical issues facing  Ariside
as he begins his term as president, and makes  recommendations as to how
these issues should be          addressed.

   Democracy in Tatters

The year 2000 in Haiti was dominated by elections: local and
parliamentary polls on May 21, second-round and  rescheduled voting
through August, and presidential and        partial senatorial contests
in November. Haiti had been  without a functioning parliament since
President René Préval   dissolved it in January 1999, following eighteen
months    without a prime minister. By 2000, this political impasse had
led to the suspension of some U.S. $500 million in multilateral
assistance, creating enormous international pressure for the  Préval
government to hold legislative elections. The elections were, however,
deeply flawed, with their most glaring problem being the fraudulent
method used to calculate the  results of the first-round Senate races.
 The government's refusal to reconsider the skewed results led the
Electoral Monitoring Mission of the Organization of  American States
(OAS) to quit Haiti before the second-round   balloting, labeling the
elections "fundamentally flawed." The country's many small opposition
parties also refused to continue to participate in what they perceived
as an electoral charade. Fanmi Lavalas then cemented control of local
and national government, ending up with seventy-two  of eighty-three
seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and  two-thirds of some 7,500 local
The obvious failings of the mid-year elections radicalized the
opposition, which condemned the new parliament as  illegitimate. Despite
a series of talks brokered by the   Organization of American States, the
two sides were unable to reach any compromise prior to the November 26
presidential elections. In the end, Aristide faced no serious
challengers in the voting, which the OAS and other international
observers refused to monitor.   In the wake of the election,
President-elect Aristide has   made encouraging statements indicating
his willingness to engage in a dialogue with the opposition. The day
after the   presidential vote, holding his first news conference
since1994, Aristide said: "To have a peaceful Haiti, the opposition  is
 Last Saturday, at a meeting held at the Vatican's embassy in Haiti,
Aristide spoke with several leaders of the opposition  alliance known as
the Democratic Convergence (Convergence Democratique). More such talks
between Fanmi Lavalas and opposition representatives are expected.

 Human Rights Watch's recommendations are the following:

 Aristide should empower an independent commission to review the results
of the May elections. An  independent commission made up of credible,
objective  and qualified persons should review the results of the   May
elections, including all of the complaints filed  regarding procedural
and other irregularities. The  commission should be empowered to order
that new   first- or second-round votes be held in all cases in
which such a remedy is warranted.

Aristide should create a credible permanent electoral council. A
permanent electoral council should be established, made up of credible,
independent,objective and qualified persons. The members of this
council should be selected in consultation with   members of the
political opposition.

  Politicized Police:  Inadequate Response to Political Violence

  The OAS reported at least seventy acts of violence between  January
and the May 21st vote, including a number of   killings. The November
presidential elections were preceded   by acts of violence that included
drive-by shootings in Port-au-Prince ? a new and alarming phenomenon ?
and a  series of pipe bomb explosions that killed two children and
wounded many others. Much of this violence, including the  killing of
Jean Dominique (discussed below), has not been   effectively
investigated or punished.

  Members of popular organizations supporting Fanmi Lavalas  were
responsible for violent street demonstrations and other  mob actions
that went largely unchallenged by the Haitian  National Police (Police
Nationale d'Haïti, PNH). At the October 24, 1999 launching of the CEP's
civic education campaign in  Port-au-Prince, a score of Aristide
supporters shouted  slogans, threw trash and plastic soft drink bottles
filled with         urine, and tried to attack opposition leader Evans
Paul. In late March, during a dispute between Préval and the CEP over
the date of elections, mobs set up barricades of burning tires and
lobbed rocks at passing cars, calling for the CEP's dismissal. Charging
through the big Croix des Bossales market, they burned hundreds of
storage depots, stores, and  nearby homes. Five people were reported
killed in the days of violence, with fighting among criminal gangs
nearly  indistinguishable from political violence.

 The most dramatic pre-election incident  of mob violence occurred on
April 8, when some one  hundred protesters burned down the headquarters
of the opposition coalition, Espace de  Concertation. Earlier  in the
day, at funeral services for Jean Dominique, members of the mob had
publicly announced their plans to burn the building and kill opposition
leader Evans Paul (whom they were unable to find). Police, who were
on         the scene, did not interfere, nor did they make any arrests.

A similar lack of police  response was apparent on  May 22, when a mob
of  Fanmi Lavalas supporters  attacked the downtown  Port-au-Prince
headquarters  of a small party, the Rally of  Patriotic Citizens
(Rassemblement des  Citoyens Patriotes, RCP).   The mob attacked and
nearly  killed one man, and badly  injured another. Although the
attack took place a few blocks from a police station during a period of
supposed "zero tolerance" for violence, police did  not intervene or
make arrests.

Nor did police respond effectively to the dramatic mid-June shut-down of
Port-au-Prince. On June 19, in a show of force  intended to intimidate
the CEP into confirming erroneous  first-round election results, several
hundred members of pro-Fanmi Lavalas popular organizations erected
barricades of burning tires, logs, and other debris on the city's
roads.   The roadblocks halted nearly all traffic, effectively
confining         most inhabitants to their homes for the day, but the
police  took no action against those responsible. Similar but smaller
protests occurred in other cities.
 In the wake of the May elections, police arrested some   thirty-five
opposition candidates and activists, many of  whom had been involved in
protests against electoral fraud.  Those held included former senator
and candidate for re-election Paul Denis of the Organization of People
in  Struggle (Organisation du Peuple en Lutte, OPL) and four  others
arrested in Les Cayes on May 23. The apparent   political motivations
for these arrests raised serious concerns.

 Human Rights Watch's recommendations are the following:

 Investigate and prosecute all acts of violence.  Thorough
investigations should be made into recent   violent incidents, and those
responsible should face criminal prosecution.

 Strengthen the independence and professionalism of  the Haitian police.
Only qualified and capable persons should be named to the Haitian
National Police,  particular to senior positions. Political affiliation
should  not be a factor when candidates are considered, nor   should
political pressure be used to affect police  actions. Appointments
should be made in a transparent  fashion, and all incoming officers
should receive proper  training.

 The Killing of Jean Dominique

Jean Léopold Dominique, Haiti's most renowned journalist and the
director of Radio Haïti-Inter, was killed on the morning of April 3,
2000. Gunmen ambushed and shot both him and   Jean-Claude Louissant, a
station security guard, in front of  the radio station as the two
arrived at work.  Dominique was a controversial and outspoken figure,
and a    firm defender of the rule of law. He had been forced into
exile   under previous governments because of his critical views, and
his radio station bore the marks of numerous bullet holes  from earlier
 Police arrested several men said to have taken part in the
assassination, one of whom, Jean Wilner Lalane, died in  custody under
suspicious circumstances. After months in      which little progress was
shown, the investigation into the   killings appeared to gather momentum
with the assignment of    Judge Claudy Gassant, who began questioning
and inquiring  into the activities of persons potentially implicated in
the  murder. Yet obstacles to the investigation have recently  arisen.
Senator Dany Toussaint, a popular Fanmi Lavalas  leader whom Dominique
had criticized in a radio broadcast  prior to his death, has reportedly
refused to cooperate with  the judicial investigation. Claiming
parliamentary immunity,  Toussaint has failed to respond to summons
seeking his appearance before Judge Gassant. According to the National
Coalition for Haitian Rights, several  members of the Haitian Senate are
assisting Toussaint in obstructing the investigation. Radio Haiti-Inter,
now run by  Dominique's widow Michèle Montas, suspended its operations
from February 3-5 to protest these actions.
Human Rights Watch strongly supports judicial efforts to   prosecute
those responsible for Dominique's murder. We  note, in this regard, that
the year 2000 witnessed   encouraging steps toward justice. The
successful completion  of two important trials ? of the 1999 Carrefour
Feuilles killings  of eleven people, and of the 1994 Raboteau massacre
?   raises hopes that justice will achieved in the brutal killing of
Jean Dominique.

  Human Rights Watch recommends the following:
Aristide's government must facilitate the full and complete
investigation of Jean Dominique's killing. Judge Claudy Gassant should
be given complete cooperation in his investigation, as well as adequate
material support to carry it out. The Senate should not  obstruct the
investigation in any way.