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a68: Haitian Coalition Expresses Grave Concern Over Recent Violence in Haiti (fwd)

From: Merrie Archer <MArcher@nchr.org>

Haitian Coalition Expresses Grave Concern Over Recent Violence in Haiti

The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) is deeply distressed by the
armed attacks on the National Penitentiary and the National Palace
perpetrated on Monday morning, December 17, 2001, in Port-au-Prince and by
the unrestrained violence that ensued throughout Haiti's capital and
provincial cities against members of the opposition, journalists and others.

"This armed attack by unidentified gunmen and subsequent violence are the
most recent signs of Haiti's descent into an increasingly vicious cycle of
political recriminations amid a severe socio-economic downturn and weak
governmental leadership," said Jocelyn McCalla, NCHR's Executive Director.
Awakened to news of a coup d'etat attempt in progress, government supporters
set up flaming tire barricades in the capital, stormed the homes of leaders
of the Democratic Convergence, destroyed their offices and forced many into
hiding with their families. Several Haitian reporters were threatened and
intimidated by the mobs. Some radio stations, accused of broadcasting news
that was critical of the government shut down or simply aired music
throughout the day. 

While Aristide supporters have been quick to blame the opposition for the
attacks, a serious investigation has yet to establish responsibility. A
former police chief now in exile abroad quickly denied any involvement.
Leaders of the Convergence have publicly accused the government itself of
staging a coup as a pretext to wipe out the opposition. An earlier attack
against the National Penitentiary, not known to be of any strategic value,
has further confounded the public. 

"We welcome President Aristide's call for peace and a halt to the violence
that threatens to throw Haiti into a much more chaotic situation. We urge
the government to go further in taking concrete measures to fulfill its
obligation to protect the lives of democratic opponents and guarantee the
freedom of all Haitians to peacefully express themselves for or against
government policy without fear of reprisals, arrests or assassination,"
added McCalla.  "Democracy is strengthened neither by coups d'etat nor by
suppression of dissent."

The absence of a strong political infrastructure in Haiti threatens to
create a vacuum that will allow new and perhaps less tolerant forces to
emerge and exploit the existing chaos.  Now is the time for the government
to take bold steps to safeguard Haiti's fledgling democracy.  These include:
	1.	Fulfilling its obligation to protect fundamental civil and
political rights, including the right to dissent peacefully with its
policies and programs, advocate for changes in policy, demand greater
openness and public accountability, and exercise freedom of speech and
association without fear of reprisal. 
	2.	Energetically condemning the loss of life and property by
mobs claiming to act on its behalf. 
	3.	Working earnestly to reach a political compromise that
ensures the growth of law-abiding institutions, a functioning parliament,
and an infrastructure capable of attracting and supporting the talents and
resources necessary to lift Haiti out of this crisis.  

The National Coalition for Haitian Rights is a nonprofit, nongovernmental
organization that seeks to promote and protect the rights of Haitian
refugees and Haitian-Americans under US and international law, and to
advance respect for human rights, the rule of law and support for civil and
democratic society in Haiti.