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Haiti: the Damage Done

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Section: Accounts Geography: Latin America Haiti Topics: UN

March 15, 2007

Haiti: the Damage Done

Part II of an Interview with Brian Concannon.

by Darren Ell

MINUSTAH is not aiding progress in Haiti, says Brian Concannon, but hindering it. Photo: Joseph Wenkoff

Read Part I of this interview.

Brian Concannon is the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), He founded IJDH after the 2004 Canada-US-France coup d’état that ousted Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Concannon formerly co-directed the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) , the most prominent legal group prosecuting human rights cases in Haiti, and worked for MICIVIH, a UN human rights mission in Haiti. Darren Ell interviewed him in the offices of the BAI in Port-au-Prince on February 28, 2007, the third anniversary of the 2004 overthrow of democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

For a timeline documenting Canada’s involvement in Haiti since 2000, read this.

Darren Ell: Let’s talk about the Préval Government. From a legal standpoint, have things in Haiti changed since the Latortue regime was voted out?

Brian Concannon: They certainly have, but there are still problems. Political prisoners are getting out, but many are still in jail. Judges aren’t being fired for making decisions unpopular with the government, but the judges put in by Latortue are still in place. Only a couple of the prosecutors have been changed even though many of them were an active part of the repression. Cases for the victims aren’t proceeding very well. There is no order, like under Latortue, not to take the cases, but there hasn’t been any support for them to move along.

What about the tens of thousands of rape cases?

It’s very disappointing. We worked on these issues during the transition to democracy in 1994. Support from other nations and the UN was inadequate but very present. It’s very distressing that nobody except the victims is talking about that now; neither the Haitian government nor the international community. We’ve got the cases ready but the time isn’t right.

Bear in mind the other influences on Préval when we criticize him. There are great limitations on his power. The biggest limitation is the people patrolling the country and going into Cité Soleil – MINUSTAH [UN mission in Haiti] – which is dominated by the United States. We saw in recently declassified documents how the US Embassy is pressuring MINUSTAH to take a harder stand on people in Cité Soleil, which means shooting. We’ve seen the results with the big massacres.

Economically, Préval is dependent on wealthy Haitians and the international business community. He hasn’t purged the police force which has a lot of former soldiers put there by Latortue.

And now an attempt by Senator Youri Latortue to make a parallel police force with these men, which Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine described as a new attempt to prepare another coup d’état: take these men out of Haitian control and give them US training.

Exactly. It would be yet another destabilizing pressure. Préval also doesn’t run the judiciary since it’s packed with Latortue’s men. But there’s something else North American activists need to understand. Recall that the presidential elections were successful in so far as Préval won with a largely uncontested mandate. He won even though he had to cancel many of his campaign appearances for fear of being killed. The senators and deputies had no such luck. Progressive candidates were either not allowed to run, were intimidated or purely afraid. Conservative candidates on the other hand were able to get money, organize and intimidate people. So the legislature is drawn from a small relatively conservative pool of people. Add to that the fact that the biggest party in the country – Lavalas – didn’t participate in the elections and you have a legislature much more conservative than Préval’s mandate. While it’s important for Haitians to pressure him to fulfill his mandate, his power is limited. As for North American activists, we need to bear in mind that our countries saddled him with these limitations. We should join in the effort to minimize the limitations on his power, to prevent our countries from preventing him from doing what he was elected to do.

Let’s talk about Operation Nazca, the recent MINUSTAH operation in the Belekou quarter of Cité Soleil. According to MINUSTAH, 17 people were arrested in connection with gang crimes. We talked to people on the ground who said their family members and neighbours were innocent, that MINUSTAH was arresting people arbitrarily. We didn’t corroborate our information, but it seemed to us that MINUSTAH is just arresting people as they please.

MINUSTAH is making arrests without any judicial control. In every country in the world, police can’t simply arrest people. You need a warrant or you need to catch the person in the criminal act. MINUSTAH doesn’t have this. They don’t have warrants. The cases aren’t being processed by the justice system. Prisoners’ rights aren’t being respected. It’s like Guantanamo Bay, where people have been arrested without a process and without the chance to go before an independent arbiter to see if there’s any justification for the arrest. It’s like Guantanamo in another way. MINUSTAH is not doing detective work. They’re using informants from Cité Soleil. Informants are notoriously unreliable because they want money and in this case, the UN is paying people from a desperate community for information. Sometimes the informants want to settle a score with someone over money, turf, a woman, drugs, and so they denounce the person to MINUSTAH to eliminate their competition. We saw this in Afghanistan, where people were collecting bounties to turn in “terrorists,” people like you met in Cité Soleil that had never done anything wrong, who were on their way to school or work, who never had anything against the UN until then. So Haiti is now the type of law-free zone Guantanamo is. It’s a violation of the Haitian constitution, a violation of international human rights and a horrible example by the UN. Why should people in Cité Soleil obey the law if the UN won’t?

The Canadian Ambassador Claude Boucher congratulated MINUSTAH on the December 22 attack in Cité Soleil that left two dozen civilians dead; the second such large-scale killing by MINUSTAH. Two more children were killed as they slept in early February. What is in place legally when MINUSTAH kills?

Trying them will be difficult. MINUSTAH signed immunity agreements with the Latortue regime which are still in effect. We have tried various methods, but we think we may have a real chance with the International Criminal Court (ICC). At the hearings of the International Tribunal on Haiti – in Boston, Washington, Miami and Montreal – we developed evidence against top military, paramilitary and police leaders, as well as MINUSTAH. If the ICC is serious about international law, they will give these cases a good look. So far, the ICC has focused on people who have gone against wealthy countries. This is a challenge to the ICC to see if justice is blind, if they are willing to go after the UN, after people such as the Canadian Ambassador who encourages these crimes. We need to look at the fact that the US Embassy, as they have admitted, is pressuring the UN to carry out illegal acts. When more of the key documents come to light, we will have a compelling case to make against these people.

It was strange to spend three mornings in Cité Soleil, a sprawling desperately poor slum, and notice the complete absence of police officers. We only ever saw M-16 wielding foreign troops who, as far as we could tell, spoke no Creole.

You can’t police using foreign troops. One of the reasons the Haitian police stay out of Cité Soleil is that they want nothing to do with it. They know that if they join in while MINUSTAH is shooting that they’ll have no credibility among the people of Cité Soleil. If you’ve got a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. That’s MINUSTAH. Everyone looks like a criminal and MINUSTAH has heavy weapons. It’s not working. It’s creating great animosity among the people of Cité Soleil. It’s not reducing crime. It’s creating terrible precedents that will take a long time to repair.

Talk about some of the important legal successes in recent months in the US.

There were two big ones. The first was Emmanuel Constant, the leader of FRAPH, the main death squad from 1991-1994. We convicted him in the Raboteau case in 2000, but he sought shelter in the US. He’d been ordered deported in 1995, but because he was a CIA asset – both him and US officials admitted it – he was allowed to live at large in the US. A group called The Center for Justice and Accountability in California went after him with our help and managed to get a civil judgment against him in August 2006, saying he was liable to some of the women raped by FRAPH. It’s a settlement of $19 million. He had actually been arrested for mortgage fraud: you can rape, pillage and kill thousands of people in Haiti, but don’t mess with the banks.

Like Al Capone.

Except that they arrested Capone on tax evasion because they wanted to get him for murder. In Constant’s case, they didn’t care about the killing. He pleaded guilty a few weeks ago. He has a year sentence on that. It’s expected he’ll be deported as soon as this summer and that the government will put him in jail also for his conviction in the Raboteau case.

The other big success was another man we convicted in the Raboteau case: Carl Dorélien. He was the “G1”, the person in high command in charge of personnel (discipline, transfers and morale of the troops). He was important because during the 1991 dictatorship, he was transferring people because they were thugs, transferring them to hotspots like Gonaives, Cité Soleil and the Cap Haitian. He was also supposed to be investigating illegal acts by the army, which he never did. He was convicted in abstentia for the Raboteau massacre in 2000, then deported back to Haiti and jailed in 2003, then released from jail after the coup of 2004. With the recent conviction, he owes $4.3 million to victims.

In a perfect world, what would countries such as the US and Canada do for Haiti, aside from giving aid?

They would let democracy develop as Haitians want it to, not as outsiders want it to. In every Haitian ministry, there are Canadian and American advisors who say they’re there to help, but they’re really there to represent their governments. And too much aid is politicized. It’s a tool to advance one’s own policies, not the human and political development of the country. This is stifling Haiti’s growth. It happened with US assistance with police training, where the training was used to recruit intelligence agents. Several of the employees who complained about this publicly were fired.

Canada and the US should support people coming to Haiti from other countries: CARICOM countries, for example, or African nations ahead of Haiti in infrastructure development. These people have more to offer because they are only jumping over these hurdles now. Canadians and Americans jumped over them a long time ago and have forgotten. What these countries don’t have is the money to send these people, so that’s where we could help.

Finally, vowing not to support another coup d’état, or offering a guarantee they’ll stand by Haiti in its hour of need; these would be nice, but I don’t see them happening.

Darren Ell is an independent journalist and photographer from Montreal who was recently in Haiti to explore the ongoing impact of the 2004 coup d’état. While in Haiti, he published an interview with Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine and a photo essay on UN military operations in Haiti. He has been blogging with the Dominion and Citizenshift, with whom he will be producing a full online dossier about Haiti in the summer of 2007.

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