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UN Arrested 40 Ahead of Harper's Haiti Visit

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August 3, 2007

UN Arrested 40 Ahead of Harper's Haiti Visit

Many demonstrators remain in jail

by Philip Neatby

UN soldiers stop residents at a checkpoint in Pele, across from Cite Soleil, March 2006. Photo: Jon Dimond-Gibson

Forty Haitian demonstrators were arrested by UN soldiers hours before the arrival of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Haitian slum neighbourhood of Cite Soleil on July 20. Haiti was the last stop for the Prime Minister's Latin American tour, which also included stops in Colombia, Chile, and Barbados. The protest had been organized by residents of Cite Soleil in response to the visit of the Canadian Prime Minister, according to Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a protest organizer and director of the Haiti-based September 30th Foundation.

"On the morning of the 20th, our comrades went out into the streets with placards, banners, and megaphones," said Pierre-Antoine in a phone interview with the Dominion.

"At that moment, it was around six in the morning, MINUSTAH soldiers began to make arrests for no reason. Many of our friends were arrested that morning."

According to Pierre-Antoine, 10 demonstrators were released on the afternoon of July 20, after Harper's departure from the country. Thirty demonstrators remain imprisoned in the National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince. They have no access to legal counsel due to financial inability to hire a lawyer, and will wait for an indefinite amount of time before seeing a judge. Although Haiti's constitution requires prisoners to see a judge within 48 hours of their arrest, they will often remain in jail for months before this happens.

When contacted by the Dominion, UN spokesperson Sophie Boutaud de Lacombe would not confirm that UN soldiers had made arrests in Cite Soleil on July 20.

Several sources report that the UN mission for stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has committed numerous documented human rights abuses within the seaside neighbourhood. According to reports by Democracy Now! and the Haiti Information Project, UN forces conducted a raid in Cite Soleil on December 22, ostensibly aimed at rooting out "armed gangs," which resulted in the deaths of at least 30 civilians, including several children. As survivors of this raid lay bleeding in the streets, UN soldiers prevented Red Cross ambulances from reaching the dead and wounded.

Cite Soleil has been a centre of political support for the Fanmi Lavalas political party of deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The July 20 protest was organized to oppose Canada's involvement in the February 29, 2004 coup d'etat of elected President Aristide, as well as Canada's continued interference in Haitian politics.

After Aristide's removal, Haiti descended into a nightmare of political violence. Community activists were murdered, former Lavalas parliamentarians were jailed, and the Haitian National Police, which has received training by Canadian RCMP officers since 2004, waged a campaign of terror against some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Haiti's capital. Cite Soleil was the hardest hit of these neighbourhoods. The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal based in the UK, estimated 8000 murders in Haiti's capital alone between 2004 and 2006, as well as 35,000 incidents of rape.

"Their plan was clear,"says Pierre-Antoine of the Canadian-backed Latortue regime which ruled until 2006. "Their plan was to eliminate the party of President Aristide, the Fanmi Lavalas party, the majority party. But they did not succeed in their objective."

Although such political repression has diminished since the election of current President Rene Preval, the Canadian government continues to play an influential role within Haiti. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs has been a strong advocate for aggressive "anti-gang" attacks and raids by MINUSTAH against poor neighbourhoods like Cite Soleil. In a January 15 radio interview, Canadian Ambassador Claude Boucher applauded the deadly December 22 raid, calling upon the UN to "increase their operations as they did last December." A Parliamentary report penned by Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay also applauded the December 22 killings, stating that "more robust operations led by MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police from December 22, 2006, further improved the security situation."

In the months following December 2006, the UN staged a number of brutal raids in Cite Soleil. Seven year-old Stephanie Lubin and four year-old Alexandra Lubin, killed as they lay sleeping on the morning of February 2, were two among many other civilians killed during these attacks. In its press statements, the UN has claimed it has subsequently been successful in dislodging gang leaders from Cite Soleil.

"What MINUSTAH is doing is not a mission of stabilization; it is not engaging in peacekeeping," said Pierre-Antoine. "It is a mission that engages in operations of massacres, of assassinations, [and] of destabilization more so than activities of reconstruction and peacekeeping."

During a visit to Haiti this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced plans to extend the UN's mission in Haiti by one year.

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