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28198: Sprague (News) Haiti and Human Rights Watch (fwd)

 From Jeb Sprague (JebSprague@mac.com)

Haiti and Human Rights Watch
by Joe Emersberger

March 29, 2006


In a world dominated by the wealthy the temptation will always exist
for NGOs to acquire funds, and respectability, by saying at least
some of what the powerful want to hear.

It's an understandable temptation. Nobody should seek out oblivion -
especially those who document human rights abuses. Any attention
given to their work by the media may save lives and alleviate
suffering, but the price of corporate respectability is high, and it
is paid by people that human rights groups are supposed to defend.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) appears to have succumbed to this
temptation. The quantity and content of what it has published about
Haiti and Venezuela over the past two years provide a good example of
how to avoid oblivion: downplay the human rights abuses of US allies,
and exaggerate the abuses of official enemies. By doing this HRW has
assisted the US in its efforts to crush democracy in Latin America.

Aristide won the presidency twice - in 1990 and again in 2000-. Both
times his triumph at the polls was overwhelming and unassailable.
Both times he was overthrown in US backed coups led by Haiti's tiny
elite. HRW responded quite differently to both coups.


In 1991, seven months after his election, Aristide was overthrown.
The military regime that took over immediately began a murderous
campaign to destroy Lavalas - the movement of Haiti's poor majority
that brought Aristide to power. Emmanuel Constant and Jodel Chamblain
were leaders of the FRAPH death squads that were organized to
eliminate Lavalas.

Within two months of the coup HRW produced a 38 page report entitled
"The Aristide Government's Human Rights Record". [1] HRW was alarmed
that the military was pointing to human rights abuses during months
of democratic rule to justify the coup. HRW was particularly alarmed
that the junta's allegations were being spread by US officials with
the help of the New York Times. HRW put Aristide's record in proportion:

"...at least three hundred civilians estimated to have been killed by
soldiers during the few days of the coup and its immediate aftermath
- dwarfing the number killed by any means under seven months of
President Aristide' rule"

They also stated that "In our view, President Aristide is the sole
legitimate Haitian head of state."

They criticized Aristide for being not being consistent in his
opposition to "popular violence" when Haitians, tired of seeing
Duvalier's henchmen escape justice, sometimes took matters into their
own hands. However, the point was clearly made that junta's attempt
to justify itself were outlandish.

According to HRW the military killed at least 3000 people and forced
300,000 into hiding.[2] The US finally ordered the junta to step down
in 1994 after outrageous concessions were secured from Aristide. HRW
published a 30 page report highlighting some of the US imposed
concessions.[3] The report, entitled "Security Compromised Recycled
Haitian Soldiers on the Police Front Line" criticized the US for
creating "...an interim police force composed entirely of former
members of the same military whose brutal human rights record
initially galvanized the international effort to restore democracy..."

In October, 1995 HRW followed up with a report that mentioned US
support for FRAPH:

"Despite voluminous evidence of FRAPH's close links with the Haitian
military .... the U.S. government initially insisted that FRAPH
(whose leader Emmanuel Constant was at one time on the CIA payroll
and later was permitted entry to the U.S. on a reinstated visa) was a
legitimate Haitian political movement. On October 3, 1994, the U.S.-
led multinational forces conducted raids of FRAPH offices in Port-au-
Prince and Cap Haitian, but most of these detainees were released on
the same day...."[4]

A year later HRW expressed frustration with US efforts to prevent
criminals from being brought to justice. It suggested that
"Washington's reasons ranged from a misguided belief that the army
was the only institution capable of securing order in Haiti to a
realpolitik calculation that the army was necessary to keep leftist
political forces in check." For years HRW publicly asked the US to
deport Emmanuel Constant and to return 160,000 pages of documents
seized from FRAPH offices.[5] The US refused to return the documents
unless the names of US citizens were deleted.

After 2001 HRW stopped publicly appealing for the deportation of
Constant. He is still a free man living in New York. The San
Francisco based Center for Justice and Accountability filed a lawsuit
against him in 2005 on behalf of three FRAPH victims who fled to the


Rene Preval, another Lavalas leader, was elected president in 1995.
The Haitian constitution does not allow a president to serve two
consecutive terms. In 2000 Aristide was elected president in another
landslide victory. In 2004 he was overthrown in another US backed
coup. CARICOM (the Caribbean Community and Common Market) called on
the UN to investigate Aristide's allegation that he was forcibly
removed from Haiti by US troops. No investigation has ever taken place.

In the first two years after the 1991 coup HRW's reports dedicated
roughly 50,000 words to the situation in Haiti. That does not include
a 136 page book they published during that period entitled "Silencing
a People: The Destruction of Civil Society in Haiti". But two years
after the 2004 coup HRW allotted a trifling 9000 words to Haiti -
less then had been written in the first two months after the coup of
1991. [7]

What changed? Was the human rights situation vastly improved compared
to what it had been following the coup of 1991? A cursory glance at
the coup leaders in 2004 should have convinced HRW that crimes of a
similar scale were likely. One of rebels who overthrew Aristide in
2004 was Jodel Chamblain - second in command of FRAPH - whose
exploits during the 1990's HRW had documented. Days before the coup
Chamblain's rebels freed notorious criminals from jail including
General Prosper Avril who served under both Duvaliers.[8]

Other evidence was immediately available that the aftermath of the
2004 coup would be as bloody as the previous one. A month after the
coup the morgue in Port-au-Prince reported that 1000 bodies had been
disposed of - most obvious victims of violence. The morgue typically
disposed of only 100 bodies a month.[9]

HRW's reports were not only inexcusably sparse, but they legitimized
the overthrow of Aristide. A month after the coup HRW made no
distinction between Aristide's government and the people who had
overthrown him:

"U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell should press the interim
Haitian government to pursue justice for abusive rebel leaders as
well as members of the deposed government"[10]

This statement was typical of HRW after the coup. HRW did not
recognize Aristide as "the sole legitimate Haitian head of state" as
they had in 1991. Why was Aristide no longer legitimate? How could
the US and the "interim government", whom HRW knew were allied with
major criminals, be appealed to as if they were legitimate? Why was
no comparison made between Aristide's human rights record and his
opponents'? In 1991 HRW had speedily refuted the junta's attempt to
justify themselves by exaggerating Aristide's abuses - not this time.

Peter Hallward examined Amnesty International and press reports
during Aristide's second government. He found that "reports covering
the years 2000-03 attribute a total of around 20 to 30 killings to
the police and supporters of the FL [Famni Lavalas -Aristide's
party]..... at least 20 police officers or FL supporters were killed
by army veterans in 2001, and another 25 in further paramilitary
attacks in 2003," [11] In short, the crimes of Aristide's supporters
were immediately dwarfed by the regime that replaced him - something
easily predicted by referring to HRW's research during the 1990's.

Moreover, HRW had documented the concessions wrung out of Aristide by
the US in 1994. They knew that criminals were being incorporated into
the police; yet they were silent about this contributing factor to
the abuses that occurred under Aristide.

On May 16, 2005 HRW published a letter to the head of MINUSTAH (UN
forces) in Haiti. It stated that Aristide supporters were responsible
for most of the violence in Port-au-Prince and called for increased
firepower for MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police.[12] Again,
the legitimacy of the UN forces was not questioned. Two centuries of
uninterrupted brutality, murder and theft inflicted on Haiti by US
and European governments were easily dismissed as was Aristide's
popularity which was confirmed by electoral victories and even US
commissioned polls. [13]

Shortly before HRW published their letter a 54 page report published
by Harvard Law School found that ""...MINUSTAH has effectively
provided cover for the police to wage a campaign of terror in Port-au-
Price's slums. Even more distressing than MINUSTAH's complicity in
HNP abuses are credible allegations of human rights abuses
perpetrated by MINUSTAH itself,...." [14]

By the time HRW published their letter the regime had announced that
it would pay millions of dollars in "compensation" to members of the
former army. [15] Hundreds of political prisoners, overwhelmingly
Aristide supporters, were in jail. Jodel Chamblain, of FRAPH, had
been acquitted in a widely ridiculed trial as had 15 other
perpetrators of a massacre that HRW had documented after the 1991
coup. [16] I wrote HRW asking why none of these facts had been
addressed in their letter. I asked if they disputed the findings of
Harvard Law School report or of the detailed report by Thomas Griffen
of University of Miami School of Law.[17] They never replied; nor did
they ever reply to an open letter from Kevin Pina, a US journalist
who has taken on tremendous personal risk to film the crimes of
MINUSTAH and the HNP. [18]


HRW had little to say about Haiti's brutal unelected government. It
had much more criticism for Venezuela's democratically elected
government. Two years after the coup in Haiti HRW allocated more than
22,000 words towards the situation in Venezuela - more than double
what it had allocated to Haiti in the same period. [19]

A law to reform the Venezuelan judiciary received particularly
disproportionate attention. In June, 2004 HRW published a 24 page
report "Rigging the rule of Law" critical of the proposed law. An HRW
press release said that the "biggest threat to the country's rule of
law comes from the government itself" - a remarkable statement given
US support for the opposition that briefly ousted Chavez in a 2002
coup. The same month an op-ed appeared in the Washington Post
entitled "Court-Packing Law Threatens Venezuelan Democracy" written
by HRW's executive director for the Americas, Jose Miguel Vivanco.[20]

HRW's stated concern was independence of the Venezuelan judiciary
from the legislative and executive branches of government. The class
bias of the judiciary, which allowed various perpetrators of the 2002
coup to escape justice, was not addressed by HRW.

Haiti offered much more compelling examples than Venezuela of a
judiciary under the thumb of the executive. The Toronto Star reported
that in December of 2004 "Justice Minister Bernard Gousse removed two
prominent judges' caseloads after they had ordered the release of
prisoners who were political opponents of the government." [21] In
December, 2005 Haiti's unelected government fired the supreme court
because it had hampered a US millionaire's attempt to run for
president. HRW remained silent. [22]

Worse than the double standard HRW has revealed regarding judicial
independence in Venezuela and Haiti has been their double standard
towards the opposition in both countries. HRW strongly protested
Venezuela's decision to prosecute members of Sumate, an NGO that had
received US funds in violation of Venezuelan law to organize the
recall referendum against Chavez. HRW referred to the trial as
"government persecution". [23]

HRW has not used such strong words (in fact, any words) to defend
Haiti's political prisoners. HRW's failure to join the international
campaign to free the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste is particularly glaring.
The priest is a prominent Aristide supporter and humanitarian worker.
He was illegally jailed twice after the 2004 coup. After his second
arrest Amnesty International (AI) named him a "prisoner of
conscience". AI also issued an appeal on behalf of Annette August,
another Aristide ally, who has been imprisoned for two years without
being charged. I have contacted HRW many times to ask why they have
been silent about the plight of these prisoners. They have never
replied. [24]

HRW remained silent about Jean-Juste's case even after he was
diagnosed with Leukemia. The regime, under international pressure,
eventually allowed him to leave Haiti to receive chemotherapy in Miami.


Contact the offices of Human Rights Watch. Politely inquire about the
matters addressed in this alert. _Joanne.mariner@hrw.org_
(mailto:Joanne.mariner@hrw.org) (HRW's "Haiti expert")
_Hrwdc@hrw.org_ (mailto:Hrwdc@hrw.org) _Hrwuk@hrw.org_
(mailto:Hrwuk@hrw.org) Tel:1-(202) 612-4321, Fax:1-(202) 612-4333

Please copy all correspondence to _Jemersberger@aol.com_


[1]HRW;November 1, 1991 _http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/h/haiti/
haiti91n.pdf_ (http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/h/haiti/haiti91n.pdf)
[2] HRW; August 1994; _http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/h/haiti/
haiti948.pdf_ (http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/h/haiti/haiti948.pdf)
[3]HAITI: Security CompromisedRecycled Haitian Soldiers on the Police
Front Line _Http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/h/haiti/haiti953.pdf_
(http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/h/haiti/haiti953.pdf) [4]HRW:
_Http://www.hrw.org/reports/1995/Haiti3.htm_ (http://www.hrw.org/
reports/1995/Haiti3.htm) [5]http://hrw.org/english/docs/1997/10/16/
haiti1520.htm _Http://hrw.org/english/docs/1999/09/16/haiti1641.htm_
(http://hrw.org/english/docs/1999/09/16/haiti1641.htm) _Http://
hrw.org/english/docs/1999/11/04/haiti1968.htm_ (http://hrw.org/
english/docs/1999/11/04/haiti1968.htm) _Http://hrw.org/english/docs/
2000/12/01/usint3114.htm_ (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2000/12/01/
usint3114.htm) _http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/bush2001/key-
countries.htm#haiti_ (http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/bush2001/key-
countries.htm#haiti) [6] T h e C e n t e r f o r J u s t i c e & A c
c o u n t a b i l i t y: HAITIAN DEATH SQUAD LEADER, toto Constant,
to be brought to justice for his campaign of rape and murder: _http://
www.cja.org/cases/ConstantDocs/Constantpr1.14.04.htm_ (http://
www.cja.org/cases/ConstantDocs/Constantpr1.14.04.htm) [7] Word count
of all reports available on HRW's website (_www.hrw.org_ (http://
www.hrw.org) ) for the relevant periods [8] Paul Farmer; Uses of
Haiti" third edition; pg 393 [9] _http://www.ijdh.org/articles/
article_ijdh-human-rights_update-july-26-04.html#intro_ (http://
july-26-04.html#intro) [10] HRW; April 14, 2004; _http://hrw.org/
english/docs/2005/04/14/haiti10491.htm_ (http://hrw.org/english/docs/
2005/04/14/haiti10491.htm) [11] Znet Commentary: Option Zero in Haiti
by Peter Hallward : _http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?
SectionID=55&ItemID=5806_ (http://www.zmag.org/content/
showarticle.cfm?SectionID=55&ItemID=5806) Brian Concannon, a human
rights lawyer with ample experience in Haiti, assisted Hallward with
his analysis. [12] HRW; May 16, 2005: _http://hrw.org/english/docs/
2005/05/17/haiti10956.htm_ (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/05/17/
haiti10956.htm) [13] NYT: Tracy Kidder, op-ed, NYT, Feb 26,2004; For
details about the 2000 elections HRW has labelled "deeply flawed" see
_Http://www.medialens.org/alerts/04/040302_Hell_Haiti_2.html_ (http://
www.medialens.org/alerts/04/040302_Hell_Haiti_2.html) Also _http://
SectionID=55&ItemID=8940) Also "Canada in Haiti: Waging war on the
poor majority" by Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton [14] Harvard Law
School; "Keeping the Peace in Haiti?";March 2005 _http://
harvard.html[ 15_ (http://www.margueritelaurent.com/campaigns/
campaignone/human_rights_reports/harvard.html[15) ] Maxine Waters
letter of protest to G.W. Bush; _http://www.wbai.org/index.php?
option=content&task=view&id=4684&Itemid=2_ (http://www.wbai.org/
index.php?option=content&task=view&id=4684&Itemid=2) [16] Toronto
Star: Reed Lindsay: Haiti's `huge step forward' pushed back Court
quashes milestone massacre convictions; May 15, 2005 [17] UNIVERSITY
11-21, 2004 By Thomas M. Griffin; _http://www.law.miami.edu/news/
368.html_ (http://www.law.miami.edu/news/368.html) [18] Znet: Pina:
Open Letter to Human Rights Watch: _http://www.zmag.org/content/
showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7882_ (http://www.zmag.org/content/
showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7882) Znet: Pina: Open Letter to Human Rights
Watch: _http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7882_
(http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7882) [19] see
note 7 [20] HRW, June 17, 2004; (24 pg report) _http://www.hrw.org/
reports/2004/venezuela0604/;HRW,June_ (http://www.hrw.org/reports/
2004/venezuela0604/;HRW,June) 17, 2004 (press release) _http://
hrw.org/english/docs/2004/06/17/venezu8855.htmHRW_ (http://hrw.org/
english/docs/2004/06/17/venezu8855.htmHRW) June 22, 2004; _http://
hrw.org/english/docs/2004/07/07/venezu9015.htm_ (http://hrw.org/
english/docs/2004/07/07/venezu9015.htm) (published in the Washington
Post) [21] see note 16 [22] NYT: Reuters: Haiti's Interim Government
Fires Supreme Court; 12/9/2005 [23] HRW, July 8, 2005; _http://
hrw.org/english/docs/2005/07/08/venezu11299.htm_ (http://hrw.org/
english/docs/2005/07/08/venezu11299.htm) [24] AI; July 25, 2005;
HTI_ (http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR360082005?
open&of=ENG-HTI) AI; January 11, 2006;http://web.amnesty.org/library/
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