Fuelling the deadly flames of human rights abuses that ravaged Haiti’s pro-democracy advocates after the 2004 coup, was an organization that received generous financing from the Canadian government. Within a few days of the Canadian-backed coup, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) agreed to give the National Coalition for Haitian Rights–Haiti (NCHR-Haiti) $100,0001 for a project to assist nonexistent victims of a bogus “genocide” for which they framed Aristide’s Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune.2,3
NCHR-Haiti was also funded by American and French government agencies. These were the three governments that masterminded the regime change, and supported the illegal coup-imposed junta of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue.
The financial underwriting of NCHR-Haiti by the very foreign governments that had mentored the coup and its illegal spawn, placed this organization in a blatantly obvious conflict of interest. And, although its many strident statements and reports—before, during and after the coup—were extremely biased and partisan in their opposition to Aristide’s legitimate government, NCHR-Haiti was continually relied upon as the world’s single most important source of supposedly-neutral, human rights reports and analysis. Among those who consistently cited NCHR-Haiti were the corporate media, foreign governments, international human rights organizations and CIDA-funded Canadian groups focusing ostensibly on development, peace and democracy.
As a result, NCHR-Haiti played a pivotal role in manipulating global public opinion. In the years leading up to the coup, it worked in conjunction with Haiti’s political opposition, which—largely funded and organized by local business elites and foreign government agencies—worked to promote the atmosphere of anti-Aristide hatred that helped facilitate his ouster. NCHR-Haiti’s biased, anti-Lavalas reportage was, of course, lapped up by those foreign governments as they built towards a change in regimes that would empower a more pliable client state in Haiti. Then, after the coup, when Gérard Latortue had been successfully installed, NCHR-Haiti was conspicuously silent about the relentless atrocities that the regime waged against Lavalas supporters. This wilful silence helped provide cover for the grave human rights violations committed by Latortue’s “interim government.” NCHR-Haiti also ignored the flagrant abuses and indignities perpetrated daily by the UN military force that—under the guise of “peacekeeping”—became a foreign occupation force working in concert with the coup regime’s police to mop up remaining opposition, and to prop up Latortue’s unjustly ensconced, de facto government.
When NCHR-Haiti flexed its formidable propaganda powers, it shamelessly added fuel to the fires of human rights abuses raging across the country: it demonized Aristide; it complimented the coup regime and rebel groups for capturing Lavalas “criminals”; it even pushed the coup-regime’s police and UN forces to make even more violent incursions into poverty stricken neighbourhoods to weed out Lavalas supporters, who it derided and dehumanized with the Haitian elite’s slang term, chimère.4
However, it is not enough to say that NCHR-Haiti was a stooge for local Haitian elite and its foreign supporters. NCHR-Haiti did more than exaggerate the flaws of Lavalas and then hide the human rights abuses that blazed across Haiti during and after the coup. Immediately after the regime change, NCHR-Haiti engaged in a close working partnership with Latortue’s dictatorship. The group became, in effect, an arm of the illegal “interim” government by aiding and abetting the commission of human rights violations in Haiti. It did this, in part, by using unsubstantiated accusations and trumped-up charges that were employed to full effect by the dictatorship to illegally imprison innocent people associated with the popular Lavalas government.
NCHR-Haiti’s totally-biased, human rights coverage is exemplified by a media conference entitled: “Boniface-Latorture: the first 45 days.”5 This report, which focused on criticizing the supposed abuses of Aristide’s overthrown democracy while praising Haiti’s newly-installed regime, typifies the kind of blame-the-victim approach that permeated NCHR-Haiti’s CIDA-funded work.6
Unfortunately, many foreign politicians, government agencies, corporate media outlets and international human rights and aid groups used NCHR-Haiti as their primary source while ignoring numerous independent human rights investigations that were conducted in post-coup Haiti. This article reviews reports published by six such U.S.-based organizations with particular attention to their analysis of:
(a) the human rights abuses being committed,
(b) the victims being targeted, and
(c) the main perpetrators of the human rights violations.
The human rights situation in Haiti that was consistently exposed by these six organizations was completely at odds with the picture painted by NCHR-Haiti. And, what’s more, the authors of these U.S. delegations all questioned the legitimacy of NCHR-Haiti and were in fact unequivocal in denouncing its extremely biased and partisan perspective.
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)
The IJDH’s document, “Human Rights Violations in Haiti,” is perhaps the most comprehensive analysis from the early, post-coup period. It covers abuses reported to its staff in Haiti from late-February until mid-May 2004. It focuses on “attacks against grassroots activists and residents of poor urban and rural areas in Haiti, the type of victims whose stories are often overlooked in reporting on Haiti.”7
The report notes that “a general climate of fear and terror exists in the country” but concedes that “it is difficult to assess the actual number of political and extrajudicial killings.”8 One of its findings however gives a telling indication of the number of political murders, at least during the first month of the coup regime and in Haiti’s capital alone. IJDH staff interviewed morgue employees at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince who “revealed that 800 bodies on…March 7, and another 200 bodies on Sunday, March 28 were dumped and buried in a mass grave at Titanyen.”9 (Titanyen is where Haiti’s military and its death squads had frequently disposed of the bodies during the previous anti-Aristide coup period, between 1991 and 1994.)
The hundreds of cases cited in the IJDH report are “only a tiny fraction of the violations committed.” This is because researchers faced many obstacles, including:
“(a) many victims, or [their] relatives…, [are in] hiding…;
(b) …the continuing control of areas outside Port-au-Prince by rebels of the Front [Résistance pour la Libération Nationale] and former soldiers…;
(c) many victims or their relatives decline to report violations for fear of further retaliation;
(d) cadavers brought to the morgue and unclaimed are systematically disposed of.”10
Despite these difficulties, the detailed report—replete with horrifying photos of mutilated bodies and piles of corpses—exposes a gruesome litany of abuses, including:
“(a) violence to the life, security, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder, torture, mutilation, rape, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…;
(b) collective punishments against persons and their property;
(d) …abduction or unacknowledged detention of individuals; and
(e) threats or incitement to commit…the above acts;
(f) arbitrary arrests and detentions;
(g) violation of the right to freedom of assembly and association; and
(h) violation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”11
In terms of identifying the political affiliation of the victims, the IJDH report states that
“with the exception of four victims and for those whom it has not been possible to obtain their identity, interviewees have reported that the victims were supporters of President Aristide or Haiti’s former constitutional government.”12
The report also explains that:
“Many of the cases of arbitrary arrests, illegal detention and torture, and of collective punishments against victims and their property are linked to the attempts of the victims to exercise their right to freedom of expression, most commonly while expressing their support for the upholding of democracy.”13
The IJDH was equally clear about who was committing these crimes and pointed to the coup regime’s
“armed forces and other organized armed groups…. Acts of violence have been carried out by armed gangs or other criminal groups acting with impunity and what appears to be under the cover, or with the tacit consent, of the [coup regime’s] authorities.”14
On July 26, 2004, an IJDH update catalogued continuing human rights abuses. This second report was a damning indictment of “official persecution” by Haiti’s coup regime and gave numerous examples of its culpability for:
* “Illegal arrests and detention
* Illegal searches
* Persecution of the press
* Infringement of freedom of speech and assembly
* Infringement on the independence of the judiciary
* Failure to protect citizens.”15
The IJDH was again clear in its identification of the victims and perpetrators:
“People perceived to support Haiti’s constitutional government or Fanmi Lavalas, the political party of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have been systematically persecuted from late February through the present. In many cases, the de facto government of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue is directly responsible for the persecution; in other cases it is refusing to take steps to prevent its allies from persecuting Lavalas supporters…. There have been no attempts to arrest anyone for attacks against Lavalas supporters, including perpetrators actually convicted of crimes during the previous de facto regime (1991-1994).
“The Latortue government has made no effort to disarm the insurgents and other allies who are carrying and using illegal weapons. Heavily-armed paramilitary groups illegally control many areas…, marking a return to the practices of military dictatorships. The armed gangs make arrests, without warrants or other legal authority…. Some even pronounce and execute death sentences, with no trial. The police and judiciary collaborate with this illegality, by holding the arrestees. The military’s traditional allies, the quasi-military ‘Section Chiefs,’ have started to reclaim power from local elected officials….
“The government has also illegally integrated former soldiers into regular Haitian National Police units, bypassing the police force’s…procedures for recruitment, training and promotion…. Integrating such people into the force…is a recipe for abuse and repression.”16
This IJDH report concluded by saying the regime:
“must immediately stop all persecution of those perceived to support Lavalas or Haiti’s constitutional government, and must start scrupulously respecting the Haitian constitution’s civil liberties protections. It must not only end abuses by its own police and judicial officials, but also bring its paramilitary allies under the rule of law.”17
IJDH Denouces NCHR-Haiti
Although these two IJDH reports did not specifically mention the role played by NCHR-Haiti, the reports’ author—IJDH founder and director, Brian Concannon, Jr.—has criticised NCHR-Haiti on several occasions. For instance, during an interview in August 2004, Concannon said that NCHR-Haiti is
“considered by many of the victims of persecution to be hostile to their interests, partly because NCHR has been denouncing people who were subsequently arrested and imprisoned illegally, and partly because when you go into NCHR offices there are wanted posters for people associated with the Lavalas government and they don’t have posters of people who’ve even been convicted of human rights violations against Lavalas supporters and are roaming free.
“If NCHR and others are going to claim that this persecution is not happening they have to [go] out and conduct an investigation. I think that a lot of the mainstream human rights organisations in Haiti, which are also—not coincidentally—supported by USAID and by other wealthy governments [like Canada], have been systematically biased in their human rights reporting, in terms of over reporting accusations against Lavalas members and underreporting or ignoring accusations of persecution of Lavalas members.”18
In an article outlining the trumped-up, legal case against Aristide’s Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, for alleged responsibility in a supposed Lavalas-government massacre at La Scierie, St. Marc, Concannon notes that—despite the lack of any evidence—”NCHR-Haiti insisted that the case be prosecuted.”
Concannon also describes NCHR-Haiti as a “ferocious critic” of Aristide’s government and an “ally” of the illegal regime. He explains that NCHR-Haiti had a close working relationship with the coup-installed Interim Government of Haiti (IGH). Concannon points out, for instance, that:
“The IGH, which had an agreement with NCHR-Haiti to prosecute anyone the organization denounced, obliged by arresting Mr. Neptune along with the former Minister of the Interior [Jocelerme Privert], a former member of Parliament [Amanus Maette] and several others.
“NCHR-Haiti received a $100,000 grant from the Canadian government (one of the IGH’s three main supporters, along with the U.S. and France) to pursue the La Scierie case. The organization hired a lawyer and former opposition Senator to represent the victims, and kept up the pressure in the press.”19
Concannon gave further details of NCHR-Haiti’s, Canadian-funded legal case in an article for The Jurist, saying that although NCHR-Haiti
“became increasingly politicized and, in the wake of the 2004 coup d’etat, it cooperated with the IGH in persecuting Lavalas activists. The persecution became so flagrant that NCHR-Haiti’s former parent organization, New York-based NCHR, publicly repudiated the Haitian group and asked it to change its name. [It then] changed its name [to Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH)], but maintained its dogged pursuit of Mr. Neptune and other Lavalas members. The organization filed a suit on behalf of a group of people claiming to be victims of a massacre [at La Scierie]…with the help of a substantial grant from the Canadian government. RNDDH’s legal team tenaciously opposed, in court and in the press, the prosecutor’s recommendation to drop the case, and even the request for humanitarian release.”20
Quixote Center (QC)
In late March/early April 2004, the QC sent an “Emergency Haiti Observation Mission” to Haiti with 23 human rights observers, including some “Congressional aides.”21 Their report concluded that “insecurity” in Haiti was the result of numerous factors, including the:
“resurgence of military and paramilitary forces, freed criminals and human rights violators walking the streets and controlling large areas outside the capital, the integration of resurgent paramilitary and military into the Haitian National Police, weapons proliferation and armed gangs.”22
The QC report documented the “systematic campaign of terror” unleashed by the February 2004 coup and identified its main targets as
“the poor who have supported President Aristide, the Fanmi Lavalas party and participatory democracy.”
As for those responsible, the QC report said that the
“Haitian press presently plays a key role in the persecution. The interim government is not only allowing this campaign to proceed, it is actively participating. According to nearly all the testimony, eye witness accounts and reports by family members of victims, U.S. Marines have also taken part in the terrorist campaign.”23
As a result of the
“violations and abuses since the coup…[which] disproportionately affected the poor and supporters of Lavalas,… individuals from the slums of Port-au-Prince, secondary cities and rural areas [were] forced into hiding.”24
For example, members of Haiti’s “largest human rights organization,” the Fondasyon Trant Septamn (FTS)—named for the date upon which Aristide was overthrown in a coup after his first election in 1991—were forced into “hiding throughout the country” and “their leader Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a psychologist with a long history of working with torture victims, went into exile on March 2 .”25
Although FTS representatives “came out of hiding” to meet with the QC delegation, they were forced to “remain anonymous for their safety.” FTS members are “predominantly urban slum dwellers…victimized during the 1991 coup.” For more than a decade, they organized weekly vigils at Haiti’s National Palace and “coordinated a campaign to prevent the Haitian Army from being re-established.” They even managed to gather “150,000 names on a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to outlaw the Haitian Army.”26
The QC report contrasts the post-2004 coup persecution of legitimate human rights groups such as FTS, with the very different experience of “opposition and non-governmental organizations” who “advocated Aristide’s overthrow.” Following the 2004 coup, these anti-Lavalas groups were certainly not forced into hiding, nor did they face any persecution. In fact, they experienced what they described as “a greater freedom of expression.”
This dramatic difference between the security conditions faced by groups that pitted themselves either for or against Aristide’s elected government, was manifested in several ways, including the location of their meetings with the QC delegation. The QC report notes that FTS members were forced to meet “with our observation team while in hiding.” In contrast, the QC’s meetings with the following anti-Aristide groups were all done in the safety of their own offices: NCHR-Haiti, the Civil Society Initiative Group, Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA) and the National Coordination for Advocacy on Womens’ Rights (CONAP).27 Not surprisingly, these coup-friendly groups were all generously funded by CIDA.28
QC Denouces NCHR-Haiti
The QC emergency observation team visited the Port-au-Prince office of NCHR-Haiti, which it describes as
“the human rights organization most widely relied upon by U.S.-based policy makers. Although NCHR claims to be an impartial organization, the [QC] team heard repeated testimony concerning their silence in cases where Lavalas supporters have been the victims. NCHR, for its own part, talked about what they called ‘systematic human rights violations’ which occurred during Aristide’s administration. They do not believe what is happening now [late March-early April 2004] can be considered systematic.”29
For example, the QC team heard many eyewitness accounts of an “alleged massacre of as many as seventy-eight people in…a heavily-populated, poor neighborhood, Bel Air, in Port-au-Prince” which “escaped any real scrutiny by the international press.” According to “almost every individual and organization the [QC] observation mission interviewed, the deaths came at the hands of U.S. Marines.”30
However, when the QC team asked NCHR-Haiti representative, Fito Espérance, if his group planned to investigate this case, his response revealed NCHR-Haiti’s propensity for blaming the victims of such attacks:
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