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9138: [Fwd: NYTimes.com Article: Human Rights Group Cites a Setback in Haiti] (fwd)
From: Dan Craig <email@example.com>
Human Rights Group Cites a Setback in Haiti
September 27, 2001
By DAVID GONZALEZ
MIAMI, Sept. 26 - In Haiti, respect for human rights and the rule of law
has fallen to its lowest point since
democratic rule was restored in 1994, according to a report by Amnesty
International, to be released on Thursday.
The rights setback comes on top of Haiti's many other problems, which
include a political stalemate, withering
poverty and the freezing of foreign aid. The report warns that freedom
of expression is elusive in Haiti and that some critics of the
government have been singled out for physical attack by people claiming
to be loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The report also faults the police, judges and courts for being unable to
guarantee security and justice, especially citing the hundreds of people
killed after a military coup toppled Mr. Aristide in 1991. The coup came
just seven months after he was elected in Haiti's first national
According to Amnesty International, the problems now are not nearly as
grim as the terror that swept the nation in the years immediately after
the coup. Still, the human rights group argues, they put at risk the
gains made since a multinational force restored Mr. Aristide to office
The next year, Mr. Aristide turned over power to a hand-picked
successor, but he was elected again last year,
in November. Much of the international community boycotted the campaign,
withholding election observers, out of
lingering concerns over fraudulent local and parliamentary elections in
"There has been significant progress, but it is threatened now," said
William F. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International
U.S.A. "It is a situation that threatens to unravel at a far faster
"I'm afraid if the concerns we raise are not addressed," Mr. Schulz
added, "then Haiti may well slip back into the kind of human rights
disaster that it has experienced for much of its history."
In the months after the killing of Jean Dominique, a popular radio
commentator, in April 2000, other journalists have been threatened and
several radio stations have been attacked. The death of Mr. Dominique is
still unresolved, and according to the report, the judge investigating
it briefly resigned, saying that he had been stymied by political
pressure and threats. He returned after receiving government
Members of opposition political parties have also been harassed and
threatened, the report said, often while the police do nothing to stop
groups claiming to be supporters of the coalition in power, Lavalas.
This summer, when armed men attacked several police stations, the
government arrested 41 people, mostly members
of opposition groups, only to release them without their being charged.
The government has successfully prosecuted several dozen soldiers and
officials who carried out two of the country's worst massacres, but the
courts continue to be crippled, the report said.
Leslie Voltaire, a member of Mr. Aristide's cabinet, denied there was
any repression of public opinion.
"We have many radio stations around the country and you can hear
anything on them," Mr. Voltaire said. "I think freedom of expression is
Mr. Voltaire, who is the minister for Haitians living abroad, said that
the government was committed to strengthening the judicial system and
that it had undertaken training programs for the police and judges.
"We have inherited some structures that are not that easy to change,
because you need the education of police and judges," he said.
He said that the biggest roadblock to progress had been the continuing
standoff between Lavalas and the Democratic Convergence, a loose
coalition of opposition parties. Mr. Voltaire said Lavalas was willing
to allow new elections for seven Senate seats that were disputed by the
opposition and international observers, and to permit elections ahead of
schedule for the other seats.
But opposition groups have doubted Mr. Aristide's sincerity, saying that
whatever concessions he made were
done in order to free up about $500 million in foreign aid that had been
frozen for years.
"The situation is pretty dismal overall," said James Morrell, the
research director for the Center for
International Policy, a nonprofit group based in Washington that
monitors human rights and helped Mr. Aristide during his exile. "You can
only take a very limited degree of hope from these latest moves, because
the twists and turns in the past have not led to a fundamental
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company