Little progress was made in bringing those responsible for human rights violations, past or present, to justice. Investigation and trial procedures continued to fall short of international standards and long delays in bringing detainees to trial continued. Some people remained in detention without trial despite judicial orders for their release. There were reports of ill-treatment and torture. At least three people died in custody. At least 24 people were shot dead by police in disputed circumstances.

In December parliament ratified Jacques Edouard Alexis as Prime Minister. It was the first time since June 1997 that President René Préval had been able to find a Prime Minister acceptable to parliament. By the end of the year, Jacques Edouard Alexis had not appointed his cabinet.

In April the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution welcoming the improvements in the human rights situation in Haiti since 1994 and noting the declarations by the authorities that human rights would be upheld. The Commission urged the government to bring to justice those identified by the Commission nationale de vérité et de justice (CNVJ), National Commission for Truth and Justice, as responsible for human rights violations; to improve the justice system and prison conditions; and to continue training the police to carry out their duties with respect for human rights. It also extended for one year the mandate of the Independent Expert on Haiti.

In June the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented its annual report to the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in which it reported on its visit to Haiti in 1997. Although the report stated that "there is no systematic pattern of violations attributed to the government", it identified "the unsatisfactory operation of the judicial branch" as a problem. It expressed concern about the number of people detained awaiting trial, prison conditions, killings by members of the Police nationale d'Haïti (PNH), Haitian National Police, and the continuing impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations carried out between 1991 and 1994 under the de facto military government of General Raoul Cédras. In July Haiti recognized the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In spite of some attempts to improve the human rights situation, the government failed to establish a strong legal framework, based on international human rights standards, which would guarantee access to justice for victims of human rights abuses, both past and present. In January the Director of the Bureau de poursuites et suivi, Proceedings and Follow-up Office, set up to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the CNVJ (see Amnesty International Report 1998), announced that its work had begun and meetings had been held with victims of human rights violations under the military government. However, there were allegations that some funds destined for victims of human rights violations had been misspent and that little progress had been made by the Office.

The work of the Bureau du protecteur du citoyen, Citizens' Protection Office, established under the 1987 Constitution to protect individuals against abuse by state agents (see Amnesty International Report 1998), was hampered by lack of resources and delays in the appointment of a deputy and advisory board.

The judicial reform bill, introduced in 1996 (see Amnesty International Reports 1997 and 1998), was adopted by parliament in April and came into force in August. In July the Unité de suivi et coordination pour la réforme du droit et de la justice, Follow-up and Coordination Unit for the Reform of Law and Justice, (formerly the Commission préparatoire à la réforme du droit et de la justice en Haïti, Preparatory Commission for the Reform of Law and Justice in Haiti) (see Amnesty International Report 1998), presented a five-year strategic plan to the Minister of Justice. However, few concrete steps had been taken to implement the plan by the end of the year.

Legislative elections which should have taken place in November were postponed until 1999.

In June a Bureau de contrôle de la détention préventive, Preventive Detention Control Office, was set up at the Pénitencier National, National Penitentiary, to reduce the number of prisoners held in prolonged pre-trial detention. Lack of resources prevented it from being set up in other prisons.

In November the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Civilian Police Mission in Haiti (MIPONUH) until November 1999. MIPONUH was to continue to assist the government by supporting and contributing to the training of the PNH. Under a separate bilateral agreement between the US and Haitian governments, a US Support Group, made up of some 500 US troops, was mandated to remain in Haiti until the end of December. In December the UN General Assembly mandated the joint OAS/UN International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) to remain in the country until December 1999.

Little progress was made in bringing those responsible for human rights violations, past and present, to justice. In February arrest warrants, issued in December 1997, for three of the 1991 coup leaders and seven other former military officers, were made public. Under these warrants, the government asked Panama, Honduras and the USA to extradite those named in connection with their alleged involvement in the 1994 massacre of some 50 people in Raboteau, Gonaïves (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 to 1998); the requests were unsuccessful. Eight people were arrested in connection with the massacre during the year. By the end of the year, at least 27 people were detained on charges, including murder, in connection with the massacre. The trial of all those accused of involvement in the massacre was postponed until 1999. During the year several members of the judiciary involved in the case resigned, mainly because of problems with the justice system.

Several other people were arrested for human rights violations committed during the period of military government; others were still being sought. For example, in January and February, Rémy Lucas, Léonard Lucas and Jean Michel Richardson were arrested, accused of participating in the 1987 massacre at Jean-Rabel in which some 200 people were killed (see Amnesty International Reports 1988 and 1996). They remained in detention at the end of the year, despite judicial release orders.

Investigation and trial procedures for all detainees, including some suspected of politically motivated offences, fell short of international standards. Long delays in bringing detainees to trial resulted in severe prison overcrowding. MICIVIH reported that only 19 per cent of those in prison had been tried and sentenced.

Several people remained in detention without trial despite judicial orders for their release. For example, Osner Févry, a lawyer who was a State Secretary under former President Jean-Claude Duvalier and was alleged to have connections with former military coup leader General Raoul Cédras, was detained in March and remained in detention until December without being informed of the charges against him and despite a judicial order for his release. Evans François (see Amnesty International Report 1998) remained in detention despite a May 1997 order for his release. In July judicial release orders were issued for former General Claude Raymond, Claude Schneider and Phanuel Dieu (see Amnesty International Report 1998). The three men had been arrested in July 1996, allegedly for "terrorist actions intended to destabilize the government". The Court of Appeal upheld the order for their release in November. Claude Raymond was subsequently released and immediately served with a new arrest warrant and rearrested for "crimes against the Constitution, conspiracy, murder and complicity to murder".

There were several reports of torture and ill-treatment carried out by members of the PNH. According to reports, Gaston Pierre, who was arrested in May in connection with the killing earlier that month of Chenel Gracien, a member of an organization linked to land reform, was taken from prison to a private house where he was sprayed with tear gas, had water poured over him and was beaten.

According to reports, at least three people died in custody. Ludovic Difficile died in police custody in Fort-Liberté in July. A preliminary autopsy report gave the primary cause of death as strangulation. Three police officers were reportedly charged and detained in connection with the case. Hector Joanes also died in custody in July in Hinche, allegedly as a result of beatings.

At least 24 people were reportedly shot and killed by the PNH, or people working for the PNH, in circumstances suggesting excessive use of force.

Jean Paul Merisier, an unarmed passerby, was shot dead by police trying to disperse a protest outside the police station in Mirebalais in February. There were conflicting reports as to whether the police fired into the air or directly at the 50-strong crowd. In reaction to the killing, the crowd, some of whom were armed with machetes and other weapons, stormed the police station and hacked the local police chief to death. They also set fire to vehicles and released 76 prisoners from the nearby prison. Special police units, called in to restore order, detained at least 30 people, several of whom reported being beaten during arrest or while detained in the police station. All but four were reportedly released without charge. Investigations were opened by both the Port-au-Prince judicial police and the local police. Both the Senate and the Permanent Human Rights Committee of the Chamber of Deputies sent commissions of inquiry to Mirebalais. However, it was not clear whether a specific investigation had been opened into police handling of the whole incident, including the police shootings and the allegations of ill-treatment. By the end of the year no one had been prosecuted in connection with the events.

In March a radio station guard was reportedly shot and injured by members of a specialist police unit who ransacked a radio station in Milot. The Minister of Justice subsequently ordered the radio station to be repaired and an investigation into the incident. A Senate Commission formed to investigate the incident reportedly condemned the behaviour of the police as "savage". The investigation was continuing at the end of the year.

Official investigations were opened by the police authorities into most reported cases of fatal shootings, but not into reported cases of torture or ill-treatment. In July the PNH declared that between January and June, 28 people had been suspended from duty for human rights violations. However, only a few were detained and charged or brought to trial.

Prison conditions were harsh. In April MICIVIH reported that the increased prison population had led to severe overcrowding, constraints on the provision of food and increased concerns for security. In some prisons, appalling sanitary conditions, insufficient out-of-cell time and severe deficiencies in the provision of medical treatment put prisoners' health at risk. Prison reform was hampered by lack of funds.

In July Amnesty International published Haiti: Still crying out for justice outlining recommendations to the authorities on issues including justice and impunity, policing and prisons. It urged principally that the authorities give the highest priority to the process of judicial reform in order to guarantee justice and the right to a fair, prompt and impartial trial for detainees, and expressed concern that insufficient efforts had been made to bring to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations, both past and present. It also called on international governmental and non-governmental organizations to continue to give the highest priority to assisting the government in this task. Amnesty International also requested that the legal situation of several prisoners be clarified and that they be brought to trial within a reasonable time in accordance with international fair trial norms. The organization further urged that investigations continue into several killings which had occurred since October 1994 and which may have been extrajudicial executions.

In February the organization expressed concern at reports that one man was killed and several detainees ill-treated in Mirebalais. It requested that the physical integrity of the detainees be guaranteed, that an independent and impartial investigation be carried out into the incident, and that those responsible be brought to justice.

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