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29066: Sprague (Article) Rape victims march for justice in Haitian capital (fwd)


Rape victims march for justice in Haitian capital

The Associated Press

Published: September 1, 2006

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Wearing white dresses and black masks, 150 rape victims marched through Haiti's capital Friday to demand justice and an end to discrimination against them.

Chants of "We will not give up the fight!" rose up as the protesters — including teenagers and elderly women — walked slowly to Haiti's National Palace. It was the first public demonstration in years by women calling attention to rape, which is rarely prosecuted in Haiti and carries a stigma against victims.

"When you are raped ... you feel like you are no longer human because those close to you don't want anything to do with you," said Elisena Nicola, a 38-year-old mother of five.

She said paramilitaries broke into her Port-au-Prince home in 1991 and raped her before killing her husband. She said she was raped again in 2004 during lawlessness that erupted following a revolt that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "We want the government to support us and bring our perpetrators to justice," Nicola said. Haiti's minister for women's affairs, Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, said her office was trying to raise funds for initiatives to protect women from violence and help rape victims.

"Right now, women who are raped have nowhere to go for help," Lassegue told the women, who gathered outside her office and declared their demands.

The protest was organized by the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, which was founded by women raped during a 1991-1994 military regime that toppled an earlier Aristide government. The group provides medical treatment and counseling to rape victims. Under the military regime, soldiers and the paramilitary group Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti — known by the acronym FRAPH — waged a campaign of systematic rape, torture and killings to punish supporters of Aristide, human rights groups say.

In a civil hearing in New York this week, a woman testified she was gang-raped by soldiers loyal to FRAPH's feared former leader, Emmanuel "Toto" Constant. The hearing was to decide whether Constant owes damages to three women named as plaintiffs. Constant is in jail on Long Island on mortgage fraud charges and did not attend the hearing.

The State Department in 1996 allowed Constant to avoid deportation to Haiti and live freely in the United States even though he led FRAPH's terror campaign. Constant says he worked for the CIA at the time.

Haitian officials suspected the United States lost interest in deporting Constant because he knew too much about CIA activities in Haiti, but the agency publicly denied any role in antidemocratic actions in this country.

Anne Sosin, director of the Port-au-Prince-based human rights group Haiti Rights Vision, said rape against women remains common in the impoverished Caribbean nation, especially within densely populated slums controlled by warring gangs. Fear of being shunned or ignored by police keeps many victims from seeking help, she said. "There's absolutely no accountability for perpetrators of rape or those that back them," Sosin said.