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#3358: International Human Rights Groups Issue Statement on Haiti (fwd)

From: Jocelyn McCalla <JMcCalla@nchr.org>

National Coalition for Haitian Rights 
Washington Office on Latin America 
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights 
Human Rights Watch
Center for International Policy 
International Human Rights Law Group

 Open Statement on the Human Rights Situation in Haiti

April 25, 2000

We are gravely concerned at the nature of the recent election-related
violence in Haiti, culminating in the death of journalist Jean Dominique on
April 3, 2000.  A three-year old political crisis whose resolution turns on
the holding of long-delayed parliamentary elections has again turned
violent.  Dominique's death was only the most recent culmination of a
pattern of politically-related street disturbances, killing of political
figures, and attacks on and threats aimed at journalists and human rights
activists not witnessed since the dark days of the 1991-94 coup.  We are
alarmed at this slide toward anarchy and call upon the Haitian government,
election officials, and political figures and parties to take immediate
measures to halt the violence and hold elections as soon as possible.  We
are encouraged by the recent agreement to hold the first round of the vote
on May 21, and urge the international community to provide the additional
resources needed to address election organization problems and to deploy a
full monitoring mission to evaluate the fairness of the vote on election

Five years after the US/UN intervention restored constitutional order with
the return of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, democracy in Haiti is
in severe crisis.  The Lavalas coalition that brought Aristide to power in
1990 fractured in 1996, leading to a struggle over political power that has
paralyzed the country.  Parliamentary elections failed in 1997 and
subsequent efforts to appoint a prime minister and cabinet deadlocked.
President René Préval shut the parliament in January 1999 and proceeded to
appoint a government and rule extra-constitutionally by decree.  Efforts to
organize new elections to produce a new parliament began in March 1999, but
have moved forward haltingly as elections officials proved unable to manage
the technical and logistical challenges.  The elections have been
rescheduled three times, with political tension and violence increasing
after each delay.  Meanwhile, widespread reforms launched in 1995 to build
democratic institutions have collapsed:  the judicial system is
dysfunctional, prisons are still warehouses for pre-trial detainees, and the
Haitian National Police is in growing disarray, with ongoing serious human
rights abuses and its integrity challenged by political interference and
drugs-related corruption.  Foreign assistance for non-humanitarian purposes
is largely frozen.  The economy of the hemisphere's poorest country is

New elections to restore constitutional legitimacy to the government are a
necessary first step out of this crisis. We have become alarmed, then, by
the incessant delays and the associated escalating political violence and
intimidation.  In just the last few weeks, small groups have engaged in
almost-continuous politically-related street violence, burning tires and
attacking cars; a local party leader and his wife were killed in their
homes; Dominique was assassinated; and political leaders, journalists and
human rights activists have reported receiving threats, leading several to
go into hiding.  We were particularly concerned by the actions taken by
small groups of self-professed Lavalas and Aristide supporters on the day of
Jean Dominique's funeral.  After vociferous chants of "Aristide or death" at
the memorial service, these groups took to the streets and attacked the
headquarters of an opposition coalition, burning it to the ground.  Police
who were present did not interfere.  A similar effort to attack a radio
station critical of the government was broken up by security officials.  No
arrests were made in any of these cases.  They continue a cycle of violence
and impunity in Haiti that includes the still-unsolved murders of several
prominent political figures over the last few years, including the killing
of Haitian Senator Yvon Toussaint.

We reiterate that the responsibility for ending this violence and bringing
the perpetrators to justice rests with President Préval and the Haitian
government.  We call upon President Préval, Prime Minister Alexis and all
political leaders and candidates to publicly and unequivocally condemn this
violence and to insist that the elections be carried out peacefully, without
the threats and attacks that have come to characterize the campaign.  We
particularly call upon former president Aristide to speak publicly on this
issue, since most of the groups engaged in violence in the streets-including
those that burned the opposition coalition headquarters on the day of the
Dominique funeral-claim to be acting in his name.  We are disturbed that Mr.
Aristide personally has not used the considerable moral force and political
goodwill that he still enjoys in Haiti to condemn the violence.  

Finally, we urge the United States and the rest of the international
community to dedicate the resources necessary to help the forthcoming
elections succeed.  This should include technical and financial donations.
Just as importantly, however, the UN and the OAS should immediately expand
the size of the small election observer operation presently in Haiti to
enable it to cover and report upon elections organizing and the final vote
in all major areas of the country.  Given the strength of US demands for
early Haiti elections it is disconcerting that Congressional holds on funds
for election observers have not yet been lifted.  With the recent closure of
the UN/OAS Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) and slow progress in funding
a successor technical assistance operation, the international presence in
Haiti is very thin at the moment.  Given the importance of these elections
and the recent chaos and violence across the country, adequate observer
missions are needed more than ever to provide independent information on the
fairness of the vote and human rights conditions leading up to the

We share the disillusion and disappointment of those who rejoiced at the end
of repression in Haiti in 1994 only to see hopes for a new, democratic Haiti
free of the human rights horrors of the past now threatened by the inability
of those leaders who opposed the Duvalier tyranny to work together for
Haiti's future.  We call upon these leaders to reject the political
practices of the past and to rededicate themselves to building a democratic
society in which human rights are respected.   

Jocelyn McCalla, Executive Director
275 Seventh Avenue, 17th Floor
New York, NY  10001

George R. Vickers
Executive Director
1630 Connecticut Avenue  NW
Washington DC  2009

Michael Posner, Executive Director
333 Seventh Avenue, 13th Floor
New York, NY  10001

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director, Americas Division
1630 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC  20009

James R. Morrell, Research Director
1755 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20036

Gay McDougall, Executive Director
1200 18th Street, NW, Suite 602
Washington, DC  20036

Jocelyn McCalla
Executive Director
National Coalition for Haitian Rights