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9137: Haiti Ten Years After the Sept 30, 1991 Coup d'etat - Part II , (fwd)
The Restoration of Democracy and Justice
The Haitian government created the Commission Nationale de Verite et Justice
("CNVJ" or "National Truth and Justice Commission") to establish the truth
about the coup regime's crimes, lay the foundation for future prosecutions
and to help begin the process of reconciliation within Haitian society. The
CNVJ report, submitted in February 1996, included a global analysis of the
repression, special investigations into the most serious violations,
including massacres, media repression and systematic politically motivated
rape, and a series of recommendations.
As the government recognized that there could be no reconciliation without
justice, it implemented a series of initiatives to promote prosecution of the
coup era's worst human rights violators. Under international pressure,
President Aristide issued a limited amnesty decree. The decree covers only
the act of the coup d'etat of September 30, 1991 itself, not any of the
murders, rapes and other tortures committed over the next three years.
Justice Under Democracy
In November 2000, the U.N. Support Mission to Haiti affirmed that two recent
landmark trials "prove that the Haitian justice system is capable of
effectively prosecuting" human rights cases, "while respecting the guarantees
of the 1987 Constitution and international treaties to which Haiti is a
party." This about-face from the situation ten years before was the fruit of
long-term investments in developing the judiciary, as well as intensive
efforts on particular, symbolic cases.
Long Term Improvements
One of the most important long-term investments was professionalizing the
judiciary. The Ecole de la Magistrature, or Judicial Academy, was organized,
and two classes have completed the training cycle, with a third class
underway. Although the Academy's full impact will not be felt until
graduates work their way into all levels of the judiciary, some graduates
have already made their mark in high profile cases. Judicial salaries have
been raised, along with performance expectations. Under-performing judges
have been replaced throughout the country.
There are new or rebuilt facilities for all of Haiti's trial courts.
Judicial officials for the first time have a minimum of materials,
including legal texts, file cabinets and office supplies. A long-term
judicial reform project is underway. The project's preparatory commission
has filed two reports, and there have been conferences for soliciting the
views of judges, prosecutors and others.
For the first time in Haiti's history, the rights of the accused are
generally respected. The vast majority of those arrested are done so
pursuant to a warrant in French and Creole, and are brought before a judge
within 48 hours. As with any criminal justice system, the rules are not
perfectly respected, but those arrested or detained illegally can and do file
a habeas corpus petition. Judges routinely grant the petitions, and order
those detained improperly released.
The oppressive military prison system was replaced with a professional
civilian penal administration, the Direction de l'Administration Penitentiare
(DAP). Prison escapes and brutality are almost non-existent. Prisoners are
documented from entry to final departure, and the records are available to
lawyers and human rights workers. A Code of Prison Regulations has been
prepared and published to inform prisoners of their rights.
Court proceedings are increasingly conducted in Creole. Trials are often
well attended, and generate significant public discussion of the issues
raised. Programs on justice are some of the most popular and frequent TV and
Non-governmental organizations devoted to justice have flourished since 1994.
They include grassroots, women, lawyers and human rights groups from across
the political spectrum, some supportive of the government, some critical.
They operate freely, monitoring human rights, advocating for justice and
continuing the democratic struggle.
The most tangible evidence of the system's progress has been the trials in
the Carrefour Feuilles and Raboteau massacre cases in late 2000. Each in
its turn was the best judicial proceeding in Haitian history. Each was
conducted mostly in Creole, and broadcast nationally on television and radio.
The trial of the Carrefour Feuilles Massacre -- the May 1999 execution of
eleven people by the current police force -- showed the justice system's
willingness and ability to punish even top police officials. The case
proceeded with unprecedented speed, from crime to sentencing in fifteen
months. It also reached higher than the arm of justice had ever previously
gone: among the four convicted of murder were the then current police chief
of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The trial was monitored closely by civil
society and international observers, who declared it fundamentally fair to
victims and defendants.
The trial of the Raboteau massacre -- an April 1994 military/paramilitary
attack on a pro-democracy neighborhood under the dictatorship -- showed the
justice system's ability to investigate past atrocities and successfully
prosecute a complex case. After six weeks of trial, the court convicted
fifty-three soldiers and paramilitaries for the attack, including the
dictatorship's top military and paramilitary leaders, and acquitted six
defendants. Certain military officers and paramilitary leaders who refused
to attend the trial after notice were convicted in absentia, but extradition
requests are prepared. One member of the military high command, Carl
Dorelien, was arrested for deportation by the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service in June 2001. Also convicted for the massacre was
Emmanuel Constant, the leader of the FRAPH paramilitary group. Constant was
ordered deported by a U.S. immigration judge in 1995 for his death squad
activities, but continues to live freely in New York.
The Raboteau trial benefited from special initiatives, but it also reflected
underlying improvements in the justice system. Both the trial judge and the
chief prosecutor had profited from post-transition training programs to move
far up the judicial ranks. The judge had graduated at the top of the first
class of the Ecole de la Magistrature. Two assistant prosecutors made their
mark in the Carrefour Feuilles trial, and brought this experience to the
Raboteau trial. One had recently returned from a year at France's Ecole de
la Magistrature, and was named academic director of Haiti's Ecole. After his
performance in the Raboteau case he was named chief prosecutor in
Challenges Ahead For Justice
The troubled system that took centuries to install cannot be overhauled in a
few years. Some changes will be generational, as police, judicial officials
and lawyers educated in democratic principles gradually replace those
vested in the old ways. Others will require massive investments in training
and material support, and improvements in management structures. All will
require experience, sincere efforts to provide justice, and learning from
The Haitian justice system's largest challenge is dealing with the rising
caseload. The caseload has outpaced the system's improving capacities since
1995, due to an exploding urban population, increased police efficiency, and
an increase in citizens resorting to formal justice. The result is an
unacceptably high rate of pre-trial detention (about 80% of prisoners), and a
clogged civil docket. The justice system needs to increase the pace of
improvements, especially in human resources.
The justice system needs to make greater strides in the fight against the
corruption that has historically plagued it. Corruption has declined in the
last five years, due to the substitution of more professional judges and
prosecutors and some enforcement efforts, but these initiatives must be
The most visible challenges to the justice system are high profile
assassinations, especially the cases of businessman Antoine Izmery, Minister
of Justice Guy Malary, activist Claudy Musseau and Father Jean-Marie Vincent
during the coup, and more recently the killing of popular journalist and
pro-democracy activist Jean Leopold Dominique on April 3, 2000. Notably, in
the Dominique case, dozens of witnesses and suspects have been interviewed,
and six suspects are in prison.
The prison system's principle challenge is overcrowding. The police force's
ability to arrest and the DAP's ability to hold accused criminals has
outpaced the judicial system's ability to process them. As a result, the
prison population has tripled since 1995, while the budget for food and
healthcare has remained stable. As foreign aid for the prison system
subsides, these shortages are exacerbated.
Security Under The Dictatorship: Organized Insecurity
Throughout Haiti's history, the military has reduced security more than it
has guaranteed it. Soldiers traditionally preyed on the population,
controlled or overthrew civilian governments, and diverted resources from
important social programs.
Although the 1987 Constitution requires a civilian police force, security in
Haiti before 1994 was provided by the army. The army had some units that
tended to concentrate on police matters, but there was not a professional
police career track or highly specialized units. The army's methods were
brutal, often without any relation to the formal justice system, and police
work was closely connected to the military leadership's political activities.
The de facto dictatorship magnified these tendencies. Over 5,000 people were
murdered for political reasons in three years (by comparison, about 3,000
Chileans were killed by the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile in over
a decade). Hundreds of thousands were beaten, raped or otherwise tortured.
The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted over thirty thousand refugees fleeing by
boat in the first year alone, and countless others drowned trying to escape.
The violence led to over 300,000 internally displaced citizens.
The targets of the repression included anyone involved in activities that
could be considered popular organizing or democratic. Journalists were
intimidated, arrested and killed; radio stations were destroyed. Everyone
involved in peasant organizations, whether it was for economic, religious,
social or political activities, was similarly targeted.
Where the Duvalierists and their allies had waded in the drug trade the coup
d'etat leaders jumped in headlong, making Haiti a major transshipment point
for Colombian cocaine. In a single case in a Florida federal court, Marc
Valme, the commander of the military's airport company, was convicted, coup
leader Michel Francois was indicted (Honduran authorities refused an
extradition request), and army chief Raoul Cedras was implicated for cocaine
Security and the Restoration of Democracy
Haitian governmental transitions were historically accompanied by extra
judicial killings, by either the government or the populace. Haiti avoided
both types of violence in 1994 by insisting on formal justice, and making
concrete efforts to provide it. A government campaign encouraged the
citizens to seek justice in the courts, and to cooperate with the
Multinational Forces. Although many were frustrated by the slow pace of the
judicial process, seeing many of the worst offenders in jail facing serious
charges helped convince the population that formal justice was possible.
Upon the return of the constitutional authorities, the military was quickly
demobilized. Security was provided in part by the international community,
especially the UN civilian police mission and the international military
forces, and in part by the Interim Police Force made up of former vetted
soldiers. Security was also provided in large part by the Haitian people who
remained resolute in their determination to bring peace to Haiti.
Security Under Democracy
The demobilization of the hated army has been called the most significant
step forward for democracy in Haiti in the 20th century. Opinion polls
called it the most popular act of President Aristide's first term. It is
impossible to overestimate the army's oppressive weight on Haiti's civil
society. Its elimination was an enormous windfall in the struggle for
Without the army, there is no organized political violence in Haiti. All
citizens, especially journalists and politicians can exercise their right to
speak unhindered, and especially to criticize the government and its
policies. Now, the government is able to allocate its scarce resources
according to democratic criteria: for education, healthcare and economic
development, without giving the military its 45% share.
In place of the army and with the assistance of the United States and other
members of the international community, Haiti developed a civilian police
from scratch, the Police Nationale d'Haiti (PNH). Although the PNH suffers
from scarce resources, inexperienced management and general growing pains, it
has made remarkable strides. The PNH is deployed throughout the territory,
with stations in every municipality, and substations in most other populated
areas. Its investigative units have a scientific, record keeping, research
and investigative capacity well beyond anything previously known in Haiti.
The PNH's drug unit, often working closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Coast Guard, has intercepted over 4 tons of
cocaine and 5 tons of marijuana headed to the United States since 1997. It
has arrested over 2,000 suspects, including 50 Colombian nationals. So far
this year, two American nationals have been arrested and turned over to U.S.
officials for prosecution. The drug unit participates in regional
interdiction operations, including April 2001's "Operation Conquistador"
coordinated by the DEA.
Challenges For Security
Crime in Haiti is below that of many of its neighbors, but it is still
unacceptably high to most Haitians. The increase in common crime that
inevitably accompanies a democratic transition has not spared the country,
and the developing civilian police force has struggled to keep up. Although
police manpower is still low proportionate to the population, crime has
dropped significantly since a new police leadership team was installed in
March 2001. The police force needs to build on these gains, and to prevent a
resurgence of crime.
A second important security threat is the transshipment of drugs. Haiti is
unfortunately situated on a straight line from cocaine's supply to its
demand. According to the The Economist, U.S. consumers pay over $55 billion
per year for the transportation and distribution of illegal drugs. This is
more in a day than the Haitian government can afford in an entire year for
all of its police, prison and justice activities combined. Drug money is
highly corrosive to Haitian society: smugglers can easily outbid the
government for the loyalties of police, judges, prosecutors and other
officials. Narco-corruption leads to more generalized corruption, breakdowns
in discipline and a loss of respect for the rule of law.
Despite the overwhelming economic power of the drug transporters, the
government of Haiti is fighting trafficking, with the many courageous police
officers, judges, prosecutors and other officials who value honesty and
respect for the law over short term material gains. The fight is being waged
on the ground by the PNH's drug unit and on the seas by the Haitian Maritime
Police. It is being waged in financial institutions through Haiti's new
money laundering laws and other regulations on money transfers. It is also
fought through international cooperation, such as the Maritime
Counter-Narcotics Agreement allowing the U.S. Coast Guard to pursue suspected
traffickers in Haitian waters.
Not all of Haiti's security threats are civilian, as there are those unable
to gain power by the ballot who would still do so by the bullet. In November
2000, a group of former soldiers, some of them high-level PNH officials, were
caught planning a coup. On July 28th of this year, a group claiming to be
former soldiers attacked Haiti's police academy and four police stations,
killing five policemen before escaping. An investigation of those incidents
by the justice system is under way.
Although the Haitian government and the vast majority of the Haitian people
are committed to keeping the army abolished, some political parties and other
groups have called for its return. The Constitution, which recognizes a
military force, must be amended to settle the issue definitively. This can
only done by resolutions passed by consecutive Parliaments. The government
intends to submit an amendment abolishing the army to the current Parliament
before the end of its session and to ask the following Parliament to ratify
the amendment as soon as possible.
Haiti's democracy dividend has been generous to date, but the work is far
from complete. Now that democracy and basic liberties have been established,
the Haitian people and its government must, and will, continue the struggle
to protect the hard-won gains and to ensure that all Haitians receive the
minimum material goods for a dignified human existence.
The next phase of the struggle is not without its challenges, but Haiti's
past is full of triumph over difficulties, many seeming insurmountable. From
independence in history's only successful slave revolt, through liberation
from twenty-nine years of the Duvaliers to the unprecedented democratic
progress since 1994, the Haitian people have continued to defy the odds, and
continue to struggle with tenacity and unity of purpose.
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