Human Rights in Haiti - December 2001 Report
A number of critical events have once again paralyzed negotiations between LaFanmi Lavalas and the Democratic Convergence, making any hope for a resolution in the New Year unlikely. Some claim that a new pattern is being developed, one in which significant progress between the two groups results in a violent and bloody attack in the community. July 28 of this year set the precedence.
December 10 celebrated the 53rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – an event that human rights organizations across the country commemorated in various ways.
Nevertheless, as 2001 began to wind down, human rights organizations were forced to gear up in the face of several disturbing events, in which several lives were lost and fundamental rights were violated.
Riot at the National Penitentiary
A riot broke out at the National Penitentiary in the early evening hours of November 15, 2001. On the official level, the incident is said to have started after an inmate, Max Ambroïse, for behavioral reasons, was apprehended and taken to the infirmary. Believing that he had died, fellow inmates began to revolt demanding justice for their comrade.
An ongoing investigation by NCHR has discovered a slightly different version. The investigation has revealed that the inmate in question was violently beaten by seven (7) prison agents, after which he died at the feet of an inspector just outside of his cell. The reason for the assault being that he had asked for some food. The official cause of death of Ambroïse was asphyxiation.
A riot ensued as prisoners set fire to several quarters of the prison. Prisoners began attacking prison agents as well as fellow inmates. Order was finally restored by CIMO1 and Swat Team officers. Prisoners were forced out into the courtyard where they were stripped and forced to lie on the ground. Official reports claim that five (5) inmates died in the attack.
In the days following the attack, Haiti's Prison Administration (DAP) organized a press conference and tour of the prison for human rights organizations and the press. Large photos of the damage done as well as the victims were presented. Suspiciously, there was no photo for Max Ambroïse. Shortly after the riot seventy-six (76) inmates were transferred out to prisons in Gonaïves and Pétion-ville, among them said to be the leader of the riot. The transfer was the result of a second confrontation between inmates and guards, in addition to a lack of space due to the destruction of numerous cells. The Director of DAP indicated that agents implicated in the initial assault are being sanctioned.
NCHR is continuing its investigation into the incident, as many factors still remained to be resolved.
Violation of Freedom of the Press
Over the course of this year, numerous journalists have been the object of death threats and intimidation tactics. Many have been physically assaulted and early in December one was violently murdered in broad daylight by men with machetes.
The mayor of the town denounced Yves Brignold Lindor, of Radio Echo 2000 in Petit Goâve, as a "Convergence Journalist" saying that the formula of "Zero Tolerance" should be applied to him. Within a short time, Brignold was dead. Those responsible (members of a Lavalas organization called Domi Nan Bwa) publicly claimed responsibility for the murder, justifying it by saying that Brignold was not killed as a journalist, but rather as a member of the opposition.
Reports indicate that members of Domi Nan Bwa initially kidnapped Convergence member Love Augustin but lost interest in him when Brignold appeared. Emmanuel Clédaner, who was with Brignold at the time, was also a target but managed to evade the men. According to members of Domi Nan Bwa, Brignold was killed in retaliation to a previous assault on one of their members.
A certain tension has prevailed in the city since the murder. CIMO agents were deployed to the area, reeking havoc on residents, firing rounds in the streets, searching homes and assaulting people. The extensive use of tear gas has resulted in the asphyxiation death of at least one individual, a 76-year old Haitian woman from the US, on vacation in Haiti. Two (2) days after the murder, a number of Convergence demonstrators were arrested, one of who is said to be an eyewitness to the murder.
The Commissaire du Gouvernement of the civil court of Petit Goâve issued 16 arrest warrants against the members of Domi Nan Bwa responsible for the murder, as well as against those individuals accused of assaulting a member of the organization. As a result of this action, the Commissaire du Gouvernement has received numerous threats. To date, no attempt has been made to arrest these men as they continue to circulate in their respective community.
Members of the press in St. Marc also came under pressure this past month. Accused of being a Convergence Journalist, Ernst Ocean, correspondent for Radio Vision 2000, was threatened and his car vandalized with slogans reading “Vive Aristide”. As a result, Mr. Ocean went into hiding.
Local Lavalas groups charge the press of St. Marc of not being impartial due to the fact that numerous journalists in the region are also active members of opposition groups.
Around 2 o'clock in the early hours of Monday December 17, 2001 a group of armed men stormed the National Palace, in what is being called an attempted coup d'état. Others are calling it Act II of July 28, 2001. Conflicting accounts make it difficult to accurately assess the situation. Some reports say eighty (80) armed individuals stormed the palace, others report thirty-three (33). Official reports announce that eight (8) individuals died in the attacks, while fifteen (15) others were injured. Among the dead was one (1) of the attackers.
Lavalas supporters publicly blamed the Democratic Convergence, the Haitian Press, and the International Community for the continued political and economic crisis that is inflicted upon the country. As such, the attack was seen as an opportunity for retaliation on the aforementioned groups. While the members of the international were more or less left unharmed, Lavalas supporters went on a rampage across the country, as houses and buildings were ransacked and burned - the cruel elements of dechoukaj, reminiscent of years past. Four (4) offices of opposition groups were pillaged and burned. The office of CRESFED, a member organization of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), was also destroyed by fire. The presence of the police during the days to follow was next to non-existent. President Aristide condemned the destruction.
Numerous journalists have felt the impact of December 17 as well. Twelve (12) in total have fled Haiti, seeking refuge in the United States, France, and Guadeloupe.
Guy Philippe, former police commissioner and principal suspect of the attempted coup, was arrested in the Dominican Republic late in December. After the events of July 28, 2001, Philippe attempted to seek refuge in Ecuador where he was later arrested and deported to the Dominican Republic, where he managed to slip by authorities at the Dominican airport. The Ministry of Foreign Affaires in Santo Domingo will examine case. OP members demonstrated in front of the OAS office in Pétion-Ville to demand Philippe's extradition.
The government has named a judge charged to investigate the events of December 17. A number of people have been arrested and others are being actively sought out. Pierre Richardson, former military personnel, was arrested and brought before the judge where he confessed to his participation in and planning of the attack. He also implicated the involvement of Guy Philippe. Richardson took a bullet in the leg during the attack.
Jean Dominique Double Murder Investigation
In mid-November René Civil and Paul Raymond, members of popular organizations associated with Fanmi Lavalas, finally appeared before Judge Gassant at the suggestion of President Aristide. Arrest warrants have been issued against these two men for several months in response to their refusal to present themselves before the Investigating Judge. They arrived at the Court House under police escort and met with Judge Gassant but they were not arrested.
The special commission created to research and rule on the request of Judge Gassant to lift the parliamentary immunity of Senator Dany Toussaint has yet to make known its decision. Tuesday, December 4, 2001, had been initially marked as the day the decision was to be rendered. To date, no decision has been made public.
The investigation continues to be blocked and hindered by numerous factors. The Ministry of Justice has slashed Gassant's budget by thirty per cent (30%) and Judge Gassant's term as Investigating Judge of this case expires early January 2002. An extension of his term has yet to be determined.
A confrontation in St. Marc between Convergence demonstrators and Lavalas supporters left 4 people injured and one dead November 29, 2001. RAMICOSM, a convergence organization, had organized the demonstration for November 29th and had written to request police security for the duration of the demonstration. Police requested that the demonstration not be held, due to a lack of human resources, saying that the police would not be able to provide security that day. RAMICOSM proceeded with the demonstration nevertheless.
Members of the organization Bale Wouze, affiliated with LaFanmi Lavalas, traveling in a pick-up truck, began firing on the crowd of demonstrators. The demonstrators, many of whom were armed, began to retaliate. The police once again demonstrated their negligence and lack of professionalism, arriving on the scene after the fact. Once the police became involved, CIMO and Swat Team agents began an assault, firing at City Hall and surrounding the building; fortunately no one was injured. Police proceeded to arrest several members of Bale Wouze. The mayor of St. Marc believes that the city does not have a problem with the Convergence, rather it has a problem with the police.
Police brutality continues to result in serious human rights violations as a man died in police custody in the small northern town of Plaisance. An investigation carried out by NCHR revealed that the man was violently beaten by officers at the time of his arrest. Two other men, now being held in prison in Cap Haitian, also show visible signs of abuse.
The deteriorating situation in Haiti can be witnessed by the number of people seeking refuge in the United States. On November 17 the American Coast guard repatriated 350 illegal Haitians back to Port-au-Prince; 100 Haitians were said to have died in the initial journey. Then in early December another boat filled with more than 180 illegal immigrants landed on Florida shores. Another group of 128 boat people were repatriated December 10.
Operation Zero Tolerance continues to fuel impunity's stronghold on the country. Following the lynching of Ti Panel2 in a Léogâne jail cell in early November, Judge Gassant had those police officers present at the murder arrested and placed in prison, including the Police Commissioner of Léogâne. Despite protests from Judge Gassant, the Doyen of Port-au-Prince had the police commissioner released from prison on the premise that his arrest was illegal. Judge Gassant calls the release a violation of Haiti's Criminal Code.
1 Corps d'Intervention et de Maintien de l'Ordre
2 Ti Panel was believed to be in possession of important information concerning the murder of Jean Dominique
©2002 NCHR -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED -- Last updated: 01 May 2007