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9548: AI press release 12 nov 2001

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>
From: <pwilhite@amnesty.org>


AI Index AMR 36/012/2001 - News Service Nr. 198
Embargoed for :  12/11/2001 14:00 GMT

Haiti: primacy of human rights must be reaffirmed

Haiti is at a critical juncture in human rights terms, Amnesty
International said today, having recently concluded a two-week visit to
the country.  While noting some positive developments, for example in
prison management, the organization strongly urged the Haitian authorities
to assert their commitment to human rights principles in the face of a
series of challenges unprecedented in recent years.

        "The climate of respect for human rights which has been under
construction since the end of the military regime in 1994 is facing some
of the most overt and difficult challenges ever," the organization said.
"It is imperative that the Haitian authorities demonstrate, in concrete
actions, that they are truly committed to maintaining independent
institutions and the rule of law."

        The organization's visit to Haiti coincided with a difficult test
for the country's police and justice systems. Warrants issued for the
arrest of three leaders of popular organizations that claim close ties to
the ruling party, Fanmi Lavalas, have yet to be acted upon, as all three
apparently continue to circulate freely in Port-au-Prince. Two of the
men are wanted for questioning in the inquiry into the April 2000 murders
of Haiti's most well-respected journalist, Jean Dominique, and security
Jean Claude Louissaint.  The third has been named in the investigation into
the recent murder of another activist.

        "The investigation into the Jean Dominique case is, in itself, a
crucial test of Haiti's commitment to human rights principles," Amnesty
International said, regretting that it has been stalled for two months as
a Senate committee deliberates whether to lift the parliamentary immunity
of a senator also reportedly implicated in the case. "Such delays cast
serious doubts as to the authorities' willingness to act on their
often-stated dedication to transparency, justice and accountability," the
organization added.

        A recent series of reported killings of civilians during police
operations in Cité Soleil, a densely populated area of Port-au-Prince, has
raised concerns about police conduct and accountability.  An investigation
into one such killing, that of 16-year-old Mackenson Fleurimon on 11
October, has been blocked by the refusal of the officer implicated to
respond to summons. The officer is under further investigation for having
beaten and threatened a radio journalist who had been gathering material
for a report on Mackenson's killing.

        Recent statements by national human rights organizations
denouncing violations at the hands of the police appear to have prompted
death threats reported last week by several members of Haiti's most
prominent human rights organizations, the National Coalition for Haitian
NCHR) and the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH).

        In the light of this worrying development, Amnesty International
has written to Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide urging the
government to take immediate steps to protect journalists and human rights
defenders, to fully investigate all threats and violence against them, and
to bring those responsible to justice.

        Following its visit the organization expressed appreciation to
President Aristide for the openness of the Haitian officials who discussed
human rights issues of mutual concern with its delegates.  The delegates
noted positive steps in the prison system, including efforts to reduce
pre-trial detention in the national penitentiary.

        "For such positive steps not to be lost, the Haitian government
must firmly reassert the primacy of human rights principles over any other
interests, particularly with respect to the functioning of the police, the
behaviour of ruling party partisans and the protection of journalists and
human rights defenders," Amnesty International said.