United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Haiti, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8b940.html [accessed 24 September 2017]
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Haiti witnessed its first peaceful presidential transition between democratically elected presidents on February 7, 1996, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide handed over power to René Préval. Since the restoration of democracy in 1994, tens of thousands of persons who had been living outside the country during the three-year military dictatorship have returned, voluntarily or involuntarily. The security situation improved in 1996 with the disbandment of the Haitian army and the revamping of the Haitian National Police. The United States is funding the recruiting and training of a new police force at a cost of $64 million over a five-year period. Despite reforms, problems of corruption, brutality, and incompetence continued to characterize the police force, although greater attention appeared to be devoted to identifying and removing those implicated in abuses. Judicial reform proceeded slowly despite a five-year, $18 million aid package from the United States, starting in September 1995, earmarked for this purpose. The transition to democracy was marred by periodic occurrences of vigilante killings and mob violence. Some observers attributed these outbursts to frustration with a dysfunctional judiciary. A Haitian government office established in 1995, the National Office for Migration, was poorly resourced and largely ineffective during the year in assisting repatriates or in monitoring the number and condition of returnees. IOM, on the other hand, had a multimillion dollar budget for managing Haitian repatriation as well as the demobilization of former Haitian soldiers. The IOM program for demobilized soldiers involved six-month job training programs in civilian enterprises. The program's director reported that only eight percent of the 4,500 former soldiers who had enrolled in the program had found employment relating to their training. The government attributed continuing unrest to former soldiers, many of whom were armed, and who, in some cases, openly expressed their grievances, particularly relating to the loss of their salaries and pensions. The last U.S. soldiers serving with the multinational peacekeeping force were withdrawn from Haiti in February 1996 (although U.S. military advisors were still present for training purposes, as part of a 300-man force of U.S. army engineers building roads, schools, and hospitals, and as part of an 80-marine stand-by rapid reaction force). The UN took over peacekeeping in March 1995. The International Monetary Fund held up $226 million to Haiti pending government approval of administrative and economic reforms. Haitians outside Haiti A total of 20,695 Haitian asylum applications were pending at year's end in the United States. Among them were some of the 10,600 Haitians who had been paroled in from the Guantnamo "safe haven" camp as having had a "credible fear" of persecution. Among that group, it was estimated that about 7,000 had not filed asylum claims after arriving in the United States, and their period of parole was due to expire in September. In August, USCR wrote to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) saying that a number of the key NGOs that had agreed to represent these Haitians pro bono in applying for asylum were not able to do so due to new prohibitions on Legal Services Corporation assistance to aliens and other budgetary constraints. (The Legal Services Corporation is a private, nonprofit organization, established and funded by the U.S. government, which works in partnership with volunteers from the private sector to provide legal assistance for low-income individuals.) "Through no fault of their own," said USCR, "a large group of persons...no longer have the legal representation they were led to believe would be available to them from the NGOs that assisted them in resettling from Guantnamo." The INS extended the deadline for filing asylum claims until September 1997 for this group of Haitians who had been screened in from Guantnamo. Controversy continued to swirl around the presence in the United States of Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, the founder and leader of FRAPH (Front for Advancement and Progress of Haiti), an organization whose members have been implicated in many serious human rights abuses during military rule in the country. Despite a formal extradition request by the Haitian government in 1995, a public statement by the INS that Constant entered the United States due to a mistake on its part, and a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno calling for Constant's prompt return to Haiti, all of which were documented by Human Rights Watch/Americas, Constant was permitted to stay in the United States through a secret agreement. When threatened with deportation, Constant had alleged that he was on the CIA payroll at the time that he headed FRAPH. Haitians protested that the U.S. government summarily repatriated thousands of Haitians at the time that Constant's forces were committing gross human rights abuses, but that the U.S. government was now protecting an alleged persecutor from facing charges that he had abused the very persons the United States had previously failed to protect. A group of 279 Haitian boat people who left Haiti on November 2 were missing at sea and believed to have perished, but later were discovered to have landed in eastern Cuba where they were sheltered in a camp in Maisi.