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#2467: Harold Hongju Koh's press briefing in port-au-prince (fwd)

From: Colon, Yves (Miami) <YColon@herald.com>

Thought folks on the list would enjoy reading this from Mr.Harold Hongju
Koh, Assistant Secretary of Statefor
Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Press Briefing, U.S. Embassy
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 9, 2000

As Prepared

I am deeply grateful to Ambassador Alexander and his superb
U.S. embassy staff for their extraordinary hospitality
during my 3-day visit to Haiti. I last visited Haiti 7 years
ago, during the height of the violence and human rights
abuse. At the time, I was a Yale University Law School
Professor representing Haitian refugees, visiting Haiti as
part of a private mission to assess the appalling human
rights situation here.   During my visit to Port-au-Prince
these last few days this time, I have met with many diverse
elements of Haitian Government and civil society --  human
rights groups, lawyers, political leaders, and government
officials in the human rights and justice sectors-as well as
with members of the international community dedicated to
promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. As I
have visited these old and new friends, I have been struck
both by how far Haiti has traveled down the path of
democracy and respect for human rights, and by how far it
has yet to go.

When I last visited in January 1993, there was widespread
violence and fear, and the military regime was using the
armed forces and paramilitaries to torture and murder
opposition figures.  Although significant human rights
problems continue in Haiti, important steps have now been
taken toward building democratic institutions and fostering
civil society. The armed forces have been disbanded, and a
new national police force has been created.  A lively press
has emerged.  Next month, the UN will begin the
International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH) to
provide civilian expertise to assist judicial reform, police
training, and the building of human rights institutions.
Some 29,000 candidates, as well as hundreds of thousands of
voters, have now registered for upcoming elections in March
and April that will be critical to restore a parliament that
was dissolved more than a year ago.  The U.S. Government is
providing some $20 million to help Haitians achieve the goal
of  free, fair, timely, and peaceful elections, with the aim
of maintaining a level playing field among all participants
and empowering a more responsive government.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that Haiti's basic
democratic and security institutions remain extremely
fragile. Courageous human rights groups still operate in a
climate of threats and insecurity. The court and prison
systems sorely lack adequate physical, financial, and
personnel resources. The justice system has not yet resolved
numerous, visible cases of official human rights abuse --
including the Raboteau and Carrefour cases. Earlier this
morning, I visited the Haitian National Penitentiary and
witnessed disturbingly poor prison conditions. I also met
several prisoners who have been detained without trial for
extended periods without legal representation, charges, and
in some cases, despite legal release orders.   In my
meetings, I have asked my Haitian Government counterparts to
release these prisoners immediately, as their continued
illegal detention cannot be reconciled with a genuine
commitment to the rule of law.

This picture is discouraging. But the Haitian Government
officials with whom I have spoken uniformly expressed
genuine commitment to democratic change. No one that I have
spoken to here in Haiti--whether from the Haitian or
international communities--wants to return to the era of
dictatorship and governmentally sponsored human rights
abuse. As my own country knows from hard experience,
democratization is a long and complex struggle. Legitimate
democratic institutions can only result from free, fair, and
peaceful democratic elections in which all citizens can
participate on an equal basis. Moreover, true democracy
means far more than just holding elections.  It requires an
environment of personal security: security for people to
pursue their professions, to move about freely, and to
explore new ideas.  Democracy also means the building of
real institutions of justice and law, and the full flowering
of civil society - the broad array of political parties,
independent labor unions, independent media,
non-governmental organizations and women's groups that
encourage political and social participation.  These choices
cannot be imposed from the outside.  As my boss, Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright, recently noted,
&quot;[D]emocracy must emerge from the desire of individuals
to participate in the decisions that shape their lives ....
Unlike dictatorship, democracy is never an imposition; it is
always a choice.&quot; I know that many Haitians are tired
from their long struggle for human rights and democracy and
find it hard to maintain their optimism.  But democracy has
much to offer.  For those who use their wealth to create
employment for others, democracy gives the security for them
to do so.  For those that are emerging into the middle
class,  democracy offers them the opportunity to expand
their horizons. And for those who are seeking to advance
their social and economic position, democracy -- true
democracy -- provides the education, health care, and
infrastructure that allows them to move forward.  As
Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,
my job is to travel around the world to places with human
rights crises. In recent months, I have been in Kosovo, East
Timor, and Sierra Leone, three places where people have
suffered unthinkable tragedy, hardship, and human rights
abuse. Yet what has struck me talking to ordinary people in
these places is how optimistic they remain, how indomitable
and strong in enduring hardship and keeping hope alive.
During the remarkable decade since the fall of the Berlin
Wall, the world has changed dramatically. The number of
democracies worldwide has grown from 30 countries in 1974 to
119 today.  This is a genuinely global revolution, of which
Haiti must be a part. The U.S. Government remains deeply
committed to supporting and enhancing the cause of human
rights and democracy in Haiti, as a core value of our own
foreign policy. Thank you. ###