Dictatorship and Human Rights in Haiti

By: Clément Doleac, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs 

Dictatorship and human rights violations in Haiti

In the past five decades, Haitian people have suffered systematic human rights violations that were rarely condemned, thus preventing any state from having real democratic institutions and impeding any democratic political regime to exist.

From 1957 to 1986, the Duvalier family exerted a harsh dictatorship in Haiti without respect for fundamental human rights, such as rights of association, social rights, of economic rights and cultural rights. These dictatorships received millions in U.S. government aid under various security and humanitarian reasons because of their role as a bulwark against communism (such as the Trujillo dictatorship in Dominican Republic).[1]

After being elected in 1957 and having served in office for seven years, Francois Duvalier proclaimed himself President for life in 1964. When he died in 1971, his son Jean-Claude dynastically took office, whom was strongly supported by the U.S. as part of an anti-communist shield in the country.[2] Jean-Claude fled the country due to mass protests and political opposition against the authoritarian rule.[3] He departed on February 7, 1986, flying to France in a U.S. Air Force aircraft, illustrating how he consistently benefited from the intrusive behavior of neo-colonial powers.[4]

During the Duvalier dictatorship, thousands of recalcitrant opponents of Duvalier were murdered, directly or indirectly by the military and the Tonton Macoute, while abductions, extra-judiciary execution, rape, and torture were also common practices as well. The State and its agents were responsible for humiliating treatment, thefts, extortions, and expropriations.[5] Around 100,000 Haitians sought asylum in foreign countries, such as the Dominican Republic, the U.S. base of Guantanamo, Florida, as well as Europe and other Latin American countries. Nearly 300,000 persons sought refuge from Port-au-Prince to more remote parts of Haiti.

After a transition period, the democratically elected popular priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to office. In a constitutionalist acting, his ascension happened against a background of right-wing death squads and the threat of military coups. As Haiti expert Paul Farmer once stated, “Aristide was seen as a threat in the U.S.” The New York Times wrote, in one of is more pathetic moments, pictured Aristide as “a cross between the Ayatollah and Fidel”.[6] The Haitian economic elite shared this dislike. As one Haitian businessman put it: “If it comes to a choice between the ultra-left and the ultra-right, I’m ready to form an alliance with the ultra-right”.[7] Nonetheless, Aristide was elected on December 16, 1990, by an overwhelming 67 percent of the vote in a field of 12 candidates.[8] No run-off was required.

In fact, the Haitian elite allied with high-ranking members of the Haitian army and Haitian National Intelligence Service (SIN) to conspire against the elected president. They were able to successfully overthrow Aristide in a military coup the following year.[9]

Return to Democracy and Interference Into the Hopeful Elected Presidency of Haiti

After three years of terror, Mr. Jean Bertrand Aristide came back into office in 1994 for a short amount of time in order to finish his term as elected President. During his two years in office, Aristide abolished the Haitian army, and in 1996 became the first elected civilian to see another elected civilian, René Préval, succeed him as president. Préval himself had the distinction of becoming Haiti’s first president ever to serve out his term, neither a day more nor less than was his due.[10] In November 2000, Aristide was reelected again for a four-year term.

Aristide’s second term, however, was undermined by the governments of the U.S. and France. U.S. government hostility had been no secret since 1991, and the historical support that Washington had for the Haitian military was clearly evident. Rebel leader Guy Philippe, for example, had received training during the last coup at a U.S. military facility in Ecuador. Philippe was known to have executed several pro-democracy activists, including Louis-Jodel Chamblain. Philippe had fled Haiti in October 2000, when the authorities discovered him plotting a coup with a group of security forces officials.[11]

For its part, the French government was insulted by Aristide due to his ongoing claims about a debt France owed to Haiti. Aristide stated that France “extorted this money from Haiti by force and should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, primary healthcare, water systems and roads”.[12] He had done calculations, adding in interest and adjusting for inflation, “to calculate that France owes Haiti $ 21,685,135,571.48 USD and counting”.[13] In 2002 and 2003, several incidents occurred in the countryside during by the US-backed right-wing militia. These included the killing of a number of Aristide’s supporters and members of the far left-wing militia (the so-called chimeres, “chimeras”). A raging civil war was soon underway. In 2003, the Canadian government hosted the Ottawa Initiative for Haiti in Montreal in order to determine the future of Haiti’s government. Officials from Canada, France, the U.S. and various Latin American countries were present, yet no Haitian officials attended. The conference resulted in an expressed preference for regime change in Haiti in less than a year.[14]

The right-wing militia took over control of several cities in 2003 and Cap-Haitien, the second most important city in the country, in February 2004.[15] The militia received support from sectors of Haiti’s elite as well as from sectors of the Dominican military and government cohorts at the time. It is also believed that they had contact with U.S. and French intelligence.[16] Despite massive protests supporting Aristide in Port-au-Prince and the acceptance of an international peace plan by President Aristide on February 21, the U.S. and French governments, “invited” Aristide to leave the country in order to bring peace and security again to the country. In fact, the U.S. military “accompanied for his own security” the constitutionally elected President on a U.S. Air Force flight. The Dissident Voice reports that since then “a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. Since that time the Haitian National Police has been heavily militarized and steps have been taken towards recreating the military”.[17] With the end of Aristide’s second presidential term, human rights violations have begun to rise again. [18]

Impunity in Haiti under United Nations’ MINUSTAH presence

In 2005, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations stated that the human rights violations that were being found in Haiti still exist but did not derive from the state or government but the system. More specifically they emanated from two antagonistic and elderly armed sectors of the population. The first consisted mostly of paramilitaries and ex-militaries (the Army had been disbanded in 2005) with the objective of destabilizing the leftist government. The second was composed of Aristides’s supporters rebelling against him through the creation of the Front de Resistance Nationale (FRN, “National Liberation Front”). The resulting insurrection had led to the interposition of a United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, also known as MINUSTAH, over the last nine years.

Twenty-two lawsuits dealing with crimes against humanity were filed against Jean-Claude Duvalier regarding the crimes perpetrated during his dictatorship when he returned to Haiti in 2011. Nonetheless, Judge Jean Carves waived every lawsuit against him within a short time. In 2014, an appellate court declared that the lawsuits for crimes against humanity were valid, but Duvalier died in October 2014, which was before the statement was made. As for the violations committed by private groups and Aristide’s supporters and opponents, most cases still go unpunished but his estate of many millions remains an irresistible lure.

From “Yes, We Can” to “No, You Can’t”: U.S. Military Occupation after the 2010 Earthquake

The election of President Obama led to high hopes for a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy in Haiti, but these were crushed by the harsh reality of the continuity of American foreign policy, which has proven not to roam from their grim past.

In January 2010, just after a major earthquake shook the country, president Obama sent the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to Haiti in order to “secure” Port-au-Prince’s airport. After three days, SOUTHCOM’s deployed around 22,000 members of the U.S. military throughout the country and a U.S. Navy and Coast Guard flotilla surrounded the island as if perhaps Haiti had decided to declare war on the United States, an unsheathed memory of a troubled past.[19] The United States took full command of Haiti’s airport and airspace without any regards to questions of national sovereignty, and the U.S. government restricted all entry and exit from the country. The actions did little to improve the country’s recovery efforts.[20]

The heavy U.S. military presence in Haiti after the earthquake turned out to be but a part of Obama’s larger strategy of containment of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were chosen to lead the U.S. civilian response, and the U.S. government established an Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission with Clinton as co-chair in order to effectively control every aspect of Haiti’s economics and politics.[21]

The Violation of Democracy in the Name of Stability: The 2011’s Elections in Haiti

Additionally, one of the priorities of the Obama administration was to effectively hijack the Haitian electoral process in 2011. The Center for Economic and Policy research (CEPR) released a report after the 2011 elections displaying many of the problems that had occurred with the election.[22] The Organization of American States (OAS) concluded that the elections represented a political decision rather than an electoral one. Many citizens displaced by the earthquake were not allowed to vote, and fewer than 23 percent of registered voters had their vote counted.[23] In addition, numerous electoral violations were reported including ballot stuffing, destroyed ballots, and intimidation. Former First Lady Mirlande Manigat won the first round of the election and had to run off against a second opponent. OAS election observers chose to “examine the results”, which led to the removal of the governing party’s candidate Jude Celestin of the Inite (“Unity”) party in favor of a pop musician candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly who, in the end, was elected President.[24]

Ricardo Seitenfus, a special representative for the OAS in Haiti, states that a secret ‘core group’ of foreign dignitaries sought to force the president of Haiti out of office in a clean-cut coup. He stressed that this core group also “engineered an intervention in Haiti’s presidential elections that year that ensured that the governing party’s candidate would not proceed to a runoff.”[25] It appears then that this disruption was backed by illegal foreign intervention against the Haitian government as well as by a series of human rights violation in which the U.S. government, the United Nations Secretary, and the OAS all shared responsibility.

When Aristide tried to return to his country in 2013 after nearly 10 years in exile in South Africa, President Obama personally called South African President Jacob Zuma twice in order to block Aristide’s return.[26]. President Obama also effectively persuaded the French government and U.N. Secretary Ban Ki Moon to join efforts in order to prevent further “threats.” Even after the return of former Haitian President Aristide (thanks to South Africa’s resistance to American imperialism), the U.S. government all but installed the neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly as president as a mere puppet to defend U.S. interests. Bill Clinton’s former aide, Mr. Garry Conille, was later named Haiti’s Prime Minister.[27]

After 10 Years of Military Occupation, Human Rights in Haiti are in a Much More Deteriorated State

These political intrigues and this spoliation of democracy by the U.S. government has not served the best interests of the Haitian people. One of the most emblematic cases is the Cholera epidemic in the country. Even Despite the fact that the United Nations constantly negated its responsibilities, many families of victims have launched lawsuits against the U.N., stating that the epidemic were prompted mainly by some U.N. soldiers from Nepal. The result of Ebola epidemic was the killing of around 10,000 Haitians in the past four years.[28]

Furthermore, several natural disasters such as the earthquake in January 2010, Storm Isaac in August 2012, and Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, have led to the displacement of two million people who have since been installed in refugee camps.[29] More than one year later, in December 2013, there were still nearly 150,000 persons housed in these camps. Only 72 of these camps were built on public spaces while 229 were built on private property. Around 18 percent of these camps were eventually closed because of governmental orders and 10 percent were closed due to evictions. The evictions, carried out by police or military force without secured alternative housing options, were a human rights violation. Most of those evicted still have yet to find new accommodations and are still living in the street or in miserable camps.

The institutional fragility of the Haitian State has clearly led to unstable an undermining of economic, social, and cultural rights of the Haitian people. The authorities are not able to provide the deserved rights in respect the availability of fields such as alimentation, housing, education, health or and access to jobs which are all but ignored.

An extreme example is that child exploitation continues to remain a reality in Haiti. Since the earthquake, some poor families have “given” their children to rich families. The children receive education, food, and housing in exchange for domestic tasks. In full daylight, these children, called the “restaveks,” are exploited, deprived of their rights, exposed to physical and verbal abuses, and are obligated to engage in forceful and painful work under conditions slightly better than slavery. UNICEF reported in January of 2012 that there are around 225,000 “restaveks” in Haiti.[30] Sexual violence is also a big issue in Haiti, with around fifty cases each year, many likely to go unreported[31].

Furthermore, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the U.N. has reported that human rights defenders have been prosecuted throughout the country.

Civil and political rights remain fragile due to weakness of governing state and institutions. The poor access to the judiciary system and high crime rates in Haiti are evidence of this. The murder rate have risen from 5.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009 to more than 14.3 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012. Cases of public lynching have become more prevalent with more than 100 a year occuring between 2010 and 2012, illustrating the low confidence in the judicial system.

Moreover, the local and legislative elections initially scheduled for 2012 have yet to occur and there is still no date for these elections to be staged.

The Haitian president has sought to appear as to be the one fulfilling his duty by purposing a new draft electoral law, which members of the Senate refuse to ratify citing the unconstitutionality of the process leading to this draft.

In addition, the situation of the Haitian people living abroad is also of concern because they represent a very high level risk of dangerous statelessness. In fact, many Haitian people abroad are victims of the denial of their rights to identity, nationality, and personal dignity. For example, in September 2013, the Dominican Republic Supreme Court declared that the people born from illegal immigrants in the Dominican Republic would be subject to nationality “degradation”. This Supreme Court statement was made retroactive, since 1929, meaning Haitian descendants born in Dominican Republic since then were being deprived of their nationality, being neither Haitian nor Dominican.[32],[33]

Conclusion

As stated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Haiti, the situation of human rights in the country is very serious. The Independent Expert presented five ways for improving the situation: “a strong political will, civil society active participation, a consensus on prioritized problems to solve, a congruent coordination and concentration of efforts, and a strong perseverance of these efforts in order to achieve these goals.”[34] The statement may be a bit naive considering the unremitting history of a plague of sadness, which now haunts Haiti.

The current situation in Haiti is a result of the foreign policies of the French, Canadian, and American governments and their allies’ (U.N., OAS, etc.) with the ongoing illegal military intervention in the country. These interventions have brought about human rights violations, state destabilization and massive suffering. With the current illegitimate president inducted by the U.S. government with the support from the OAS, how can the situation be any different? Military invasion, occupation, and foreign intervention has not helped to return the country to democracy or to uphold human rights. In fact, it has been a disaster. Today those responsible don’t want to accept accountability for this situation and choose instead to criticize Haitian political actors for the current condition without no regard for these crimes. True solutions lie in respect for fair elections, popular will, democratic life, and putting an end to military occupation.

Featured Image: 1995 Pulitzer Prize, Spot News Photography, Carol Guzy, Washington Post Taken from Cliff https://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/4427920359/in/photolist-7Khfst-7ykmML-7yetQz-diaFui-dmsLj-dms7m-9fyX3R-dmsLe-2AnJY-81enF8-2Ant5-dms7k-dms7o-2AnXZ-dms7n-9fBLKh-7Fe9dr-745qMM-9s1dDd-7ouVk3-7ykmDQ-9fC7V1-3X6Vs-arJBfP-arJBCR-arJB6D-arJBz6-arJAXX-arJBt2-arMfCQ-9fyRcX-c8Wzo-9fC2zL-9fyCiF-9fyTGt-9fC8rN-dms7q-9fC7iw-81Boz7-9fyCFZ-9fBFfu-9fyV4M-9fC6cQ-9fC5qh-9fyyg8-9fBGPC-9fBZHE-9fBF4W-9fyw5r-9fBMwG

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References

[1]           “François Duvalier, 1957–1971”The Library of Congress, Country Studies, December 1989.

[2]           ABBOTH, Elizabeth. Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1988,

[3]           [3] Report of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1987/61, August 5th 1987, par. 1 to 3, 18 and 87.

[4]           MOODY John “Haiti Bad Times for Baby Doc, ss violent protests grow, a besieged dictator imposes martial law” in Time Magazine, Feb. 10, 1986

[5]           Report of the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, E/CN.4/1996/94, January 24th 1996, par. 8.

[6]           [6] FRENCH Howard W. “Front-Running Priest a Shock to Haiti” in The New York Times, December 13, 1990. Consulted on http://www.nytimes.com/1990/12/13/world/front-running-priest-a-shock-to-haiti.html

[7]           [7] FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[8]           [8] FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[9]           [9] FRENCH, Howard W.; Time Weiner (14 November 1993). “C.I.A. Formed Haitian Unit Later Tied to Narcotics Trade”. New York Times. Retrieved 6 May 2010.

[10]          FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[11]          [11] FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[12]          MACDONALD Isabel “France’s debt of dishonour to Haiti” in The Guardian, Monday 16 August 2010

[13]          FARMER Paul “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8 · 15 April 2004 pages 28-31, on the following link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[14]          The details of the meeting were reported by Michel Vastel in “Haiti put into trusteeship by the United Nations?”  L’Actualité, 15 March, 2003 or in ENGLER Yves, “Media Cover-up of Canada’s Role in the Overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide”, Part 1 of a 4 Part Series, Dissident Voice, January 30th, 2014 consulted on http://dissidentvoice.org/2014/01/media-cover-up-of-canadas-role-in-the-overthrow-of-jean-bertrand-aristide/

[15]          SDA-ATS News Service, 29 février 2004 “La Maison blanche appelle Jean-Bertrand Aristide à quitter le pouvoir” in Interet General, on February 29, 2004, Consulted on : http://www.interet-general.info/article.php3?id_article=543 on November 17, 2014.

[16]          SPRAGUE Jeb, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Monthly Review Press, 2012.

[17]          ENGLER Yves, Media Cover-up of Canada’s Role in the Overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Part 1 of a 4 Part Series, Dissident Voice, January 30th, 2014 consulted on http://dissidentvoice.org/2014/01/media-cover-up-of-canadas-role-in-the-overthrow-of-jean-bertrand-aristide/

[18]          [18] For more information regarding the role of US and French government in Aristide destitution, see Paul Farmer, “Who removed Aristide” in the London Review of Books, Vol. 26 No. 8· 15 April 2004 pages 28-31: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide

[19]          As stated by the US Secretary of Defense : http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=59423

[20]          BAR editor and columnist JEMIMA Pierre “Don’t Blame Republicans for Obama’s Actions in Haiti” in Black Agenda Report (Information Blog), on the following link: “http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/don%E2%80%99t-blame-republicans-obama%E2%80%99s-actions-haiti

[21]          BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre “Don’t Blame Republicans for Obama’s Actions in Haiti” in Black Agenda Report (Information Blog), on the following link: “http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/don%E2%80%99t-blame-republicans-obama%E2%80%99s-actions-haiti

[22]          JOHNSTON Jake and WEISBROT Mark “Haiti’s Fatally Flawed Election” in CEPR, January 2011. Consulted on http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/haitis-fatally-flawed-election

[23]          As stretched by a US Secretary of State report “Although turnout was higher than in 2009, it was only about 22 percent in the first round of the current election process.” http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/159331.pdf

[24]          JOHNSTON Jake and WEISBROT Mark “Haiti’s Fatally Flawed Election” in CEPR, January 2011. Consulted on http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/haitis-fatally-flawed-election

[25]          In an interview with Dissent Magazine, with information cited again by CEPR here: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/haitis-doctored-elections-seen-from-the-inside-an-interview-with-ricardo-seitenfus and here http://www.cepr.net/index.php/press-releases/press-releases/oas-insider-reveals-details-of-illegal-foreign-intervention-against-haitian-democracy

[26]          [26] WEIBSROT Mark, “Haiti must decide Haiti’s future “ in the Guardian, on March 17, 2011. Consulted on : http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/mar/17/haiti-usforeignpolicy on November17, 2014.

[27]          ENGLER Yves, “Media Cover-up of Canada’s Role in the Overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide”, Part 1 of a 4 Part Series, Dissident Voice, January 30th, 2014 consulted on http://dissidentvoice.org/2014/01/media-cover-up-of-canadas-role-in-the-overthrow-of-jean-bertrand-aristide/

[28]          [28] PILKINGTON Ed “Haitians launch new lawsuit against UN over thousands of cholera deaths” The Guardian, March 11 2014

[29]          GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council.

[30]          [30] GRUMIAU Samuel, «UNICEF aids restavek victims of abuse and exploitation in Haiti», Port-au-Prince, Haïti, 31 janvier 2012 (www.unicef.org/infobycountry/haiti_61518.html).

[31]          GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council.

[32]          [32] According to his data, the number of Haitians living abroad would be about 4.5 million people. In 2007, the International Crisis Group estimated that a population of more than 3.71 million Haitians and descendants of Haitians residing abroad. The reference is International Crisis Group, “Construire la paix en Haïti: inclure les Haïtiens de l’extérieur”, Rapport Amérique latine/Caraïbes no°24, Port-au-Prince/Bruxelles, December 14 2007.

[33]          GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council.

[34]          GALLON Gustavo, Independent UN expert report on the situation of Human Rights in Haiti, A/HRC/25/71, February 2014, Human Rights Council.

2 thoughts on “Dictatorship and Human Rights in Haiti

  • November 27, 2014 at 9:39 pm
    Permalink

    “Philippe was known to have executed several pro-democracy activists, including Louis-Jodel Chamblain.”

    This is a mistake, probably a type error? Chamblain was Philippe’s fellow rebel leader, and a former FRAPH leader, not a pro-democracy activist. He also wasn’t executed, he is still alive.

    Reply

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