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29576: White (editorial) An unsavory effort to discredit Haiti report (fwd)

From: Randall White <raw@haitiaction.org>

An unsavory effort to discredit Haiti report

By Tim Pelzer

 A London-based Haiti solidarity group with ties to shadowy U.S./Canadian-backed non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that participated in the campaign to destabilize the former center-left Haitian government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is behind efforts to discredit a new report from the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet.

The Lancet study, "Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince: a random survey of households," written by Wayne University school of social work researchers Athena Kolbe  and Royce Hutson, was released in September.

It reveals that 8,000 people were murdered and 35,000 women raped in Port -au-Prince  between Feb. 29, 2004, and December 2005, the period immediately after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Security forces belonging to the U.S./Canadian/French imposed interim government as well as anti-Lavalas gangs carried out a large share of these atrocities.

Media coverage of the Lancet study began casting doubt on the validity of the report. Charles Arthur of the London-based Haiti Support Group was widely cited as claiming that the Lancet report is seriously marred by bias because co-author Athena Kolbe had worked in an orphanage set up by Aristide. She also worked as a journalist under the name Lyn Duff, writing favorably of Aristide.

Arthur maintains that Aristide supporters also raped and murdered innocent people and that this is not reflected in the Lancet report. "I am concerned The Lancet has unwittingly been used as part of the pro-Aristide propaganda campaign," he told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail.

According to sources who have requested anonymity, Arthur has been pressuring the Lancet to re-evaluate the study, claiming that Kolbe used fabricated data. Other U.S.- and Canadian-funded NGOs have also complained to the Lancet. After weeks of pressure, Lancet editor Richard Horton asked Wayne University to investigate whether a conflict of interest colored Kolbe's reporting.

Arthur's criticisms of the Lancet report, as well as his motivations, must be viewed with suspicion. All other major human rights studies on the period on Haiti, from Harvard and the University of Miami to the U.S. National Lawyers Guild, support the Lancet study's findings that Aristide supporters were overwhelming the victims rather than the perpetrators of human rights violations.

When I asked Arthur about this via e-mail, he responded, "I am not sure that the reports that you mention are entirely reliable (apart from Amnesty) as they appear to see the undoubted violations committed by agents of the interim government, former soldiers, right-wing gangs and the Minustah (UN Stabilization Forces) but not the abuses committed by FL [Fanmi Lavalas Party] supporters." Instead he sent me extracts of Amnesty International (AI) reports (October 8, 2004; July 28, 2005) that make unsupported claims that gangs loyal to Aristide had killed many people. Well after the coup against Aristide, human rights activists in Haiti criticized Amnesty for not investigating and speaking out against the repression carried out by the interim government and its allies.

According to Marguerite Laurent of the New York-based Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, the organizations that Arthur promotes, such as the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development (PAPDA), Haitian Women's Solidarity Organization (SOFA) and Kayfanm "stood silent during the horrific killings and illegal arrests of Lavalas supporters and rapes of Haitian women and men after the 2004 coup d'etat."

"Arthur was losing his credibility," she said. "This attack [against Kolbe] puts his name back in the circle." The groups that Arthur supports played a role in the U.S./Canadian/French-led effort to destabilize and undermine the elected Aristide government. OPL, PAPDA, SOFA and Kayfanm receive funding from either the U.S. government-backed National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) or the Canadian government-backed Canadian International Development Agency.

After U.S. Marines seized Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004, and flew him to the Central African Republic, the interim government recruited heavily from the U.S./Canadian-financed anti-Aristide opposition movement. This included groups that Arthur supports. For instance, PAPDA leader Yves Andre Wainwright became environment minister.

Furthermore, the British-based organization Christian Aid provides funding to Arthur's Haiti Support Group. Christian Aid receives money from the U.S. government through grants from USAID.

Witnesses in London have also accused Arthur of distributing the telephone numbers and home address of Kolbe, which resulted in numerous death threats and two bomb scares that  are under investigation by US and British authorities.

Arthur's efforts to undermine the Lancet report deserves to be firmly rejected.

--Tim Pelzer is a freelance writer whose articles appear in numerous publications.