Human Rights Developments

Police and government passivity in the face of intimidation and violence by supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas party raised serious human rights concerns. Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, employed fraud to boost its electoral gains and win near total control over the parliament that was sworn in on August 28.

The year 2000 was dominated by elections: local and parliamentary polls on May 21, second-round and rescheduled voting through August, and presidential and partial senatorial contests planned for November and December 2000. Haiti had been without a functioning parliament since President René Préval dissolved it in January 1999, following eighteen months without a prime minister. By 2000, this political impasse had led to the suspension of some U.S. $500 million in multilateral assistance, creating enormous international pressure for the Préval government to hold legislative elections. The country's dire economic circumstances, characterized by the lowest average incomes in the Western Hemisphere, magnified the impact of the aid suspension.

The most glaringly fraudulent aspect of the deeply flawed May elections was the method used to calculate the results of the first-round Senate races. Bypassing the country's constitution and electoral law, which required first-round winners to have an absolute majority of votes cast, the Provisional Electoral Council (Conseil Electorale Provisoire, CEP) dramatically shrunk the pool of votes counted, eliminating all but those accruing to the four or six leading candidates in each province. As a result, all nineteen Senate seats at issue in the elections were won in the first round, eighteen of them by Fanmi Lavalas. When Léon Manus, the seventy-eight-year-old president of the council, objected to the calculation method, Préval and Aristide pressured him to accept it, making veiled threats that led Manus to flee the country. The government's refusal to reconsider the skewed results led the Electoral Monitoring Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS-EOM) to quit Haiti before the second-round balloting, labeling the elections "fundamentally flawed." Fanmi Lavalas then cemented control of local and national government, ending up with seventy-two of eighty-three seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and two-thirds of some 7,500 local posts.

The runup to the elections was marred by political violence, with the OAS recording at least seventy violent incidents from January to May 21, the day of local and first-round parliamentary elections. The violence included several killings, including that of Haiti's most renowned journalist, Jean Dominique, the sixty-nine-year-old director of Radio Haïti-Inter. Gunmen ambushed and shot both him and Jean-Claude Louissant, a station security guard, on the morning of April 3. Dominique was a controversial and outspoken figure, and a firm defender of the rule of law. His radio station bore the marks of numerous bullet holes from earlier attacks. Police arrested several men said to have taken part in the assassination, but there was no official word by October on who was responsible for it, fuelling widespread rumor and speculation.

Members of "popular organizations" supporting Fanmi Lavalas were responsible for violent street demonstrations and other mob actions that went largely unchallenged by the Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d'Haïti, PNH). At the October 24, 1999 launching of the CEP's civic education campaign in Port-au-Prince, a score of Aristide supporters shouted slogans, threw trash and plastic soft drink bottles filled with urine, and tried to attack opposition leader Evans Paul. In late March, during a dispute between Préval and the CEP over the date of elections, mobs set up barricades of burning tires and lobbed rocks at passing cars, calling for the CEP's dismissal. Charging through the big Croix des Bossales market, they burned hundreds of storage depots, stores, and nearby homes. Five people were reported killed in the days of violence, with fighting among criminal gangs nearly indistinguishable from political violence.

The most dramatic pre-election incident of mob violence occurred on April 8, when some one hundred protesters burned down the headquarters of the opposition coalition, Space for Dialogue (Espace de Concertation). Earlier in the day, at funeral services for Jean Dominique, members of the mob had publicly announced their plans to burn the building and kill Space for Dialogue spokesman Evans Paul (whom they were unable to find). Police, who were on the scene, did not interfere, nor did they make any arrests.

The May 21 elections were largely peaceful, if disorganized, and well over 50 percent of registered voters turned out. But as night fell and polls closed, armed men stole or burned electoral materials in some districts. In others, because a lack of electricity deprived polling precincts of light, electoral workers tallied ballots in places such as police stations, sometimes barring party poll watchers from observing the count. The morning after the vote, the press photographed Port-au-Prince streets littered with ballots and ballot boxes deposited during the night. The OAS-EOM concluded that serious irregularities had compromised the elections' credibility but that, in local balloting, "since one political party won most of the elections by a substantial margin, it is probably unlikely that the majority of the final outcomes in local elections have been affected." Opposition parties alleged massive fraud and intimidation, although most could not document their charges. Contrary to the electoral law, most complaints of irregularities received no serious investigation.

Post-election incidents again demonstrated the problem of selective enforcement of the law. On May 22, Fanmi Lavalas supporters attacked the downtown Port-au-Prince headquarters of a small party, the Rally of Patriotic Citizens (Rassemblement des Citoyens Patriotes, RCP), nearly killing one man and badly injuring another. Although the attack took place a few blocks from a police station during a period of supposed "zero tolerance" for violence, police did not intervene or make arrests.

In the wake of the elections, police arrested some thirty-five opposition candidates and activists, many of whom had been involved in protests against electoral fraud. Those held included former senator and candidate for re-election Paul Denis of the Organization of People in Struggle (Organisation du Peuple en Lutte, OPL) and four others arrested in Les Cayes on May 23. Special police units searched Denis' house without a valid warrant and arrested him after claiming to have found several firearms. The five were released after three days in appalling detention conditions. Others arrested post-election included Limongy Jean, candidate for deputy; fifteen Space for Dialogue supporters in Petit Goâve; a mayoral candidate and two other members of the Open the Gates Party (Pati Louvrye Barye, PLB) in Thomazeau; and ten OPL candidates and activists in Thiotte. But no Fanmi Lavalas supporters were arrested. In July, in Maïssade in the Central Plateau, police who intervened in a conflict between Fanmi Lavalas and Space for Dialogue allowed Fanmi Lavalas supporters to accompany them in house searches and to beat Space for Dialogue members who were arrested.

Nor did police respond effectively to the dramatic mid-June shut-down of Port-au-Prince. On June 19, in a show of force intended to intimidate the CEP into confirming erroneous first-round election results, several hundred members of pro-Fanmi Lavalas popular organizations erected barricades of burning tires, logs, and other debris on the city's roads. The roadblocks halted nearly all traffic, effectively confining most inhabitants to their homes for the day, but the police took no action against those responsible. Similar but smaller protests occurred in other cities.

Fanmi Lavalas members also fell victim to post-election violence. Supporters of an independent candidate for mayor killed two Fanmi Lavalas supporters on July 2 on the Ile-à-Vache, claiming that the Fanmi Lavalas mayoral candidate had stolen the election. Police arrestedand charged a former mayor with organizing the attacks. In Anse-d'Hainault, supporters of a mayoral candidate who narrowly lost to the Fanmi Lavalas candidate set houses on fire and ransacked a community radio station, reportedly wounding twelve people.

While figures for 2000 were unavailable as of this writing, 1999 saw a rise in police killings. The U.N./OAS International Civilian Mission (MICIVIH) reported sixty-six suspicious killings by the police in 1999, including several possible extrajudicial executions, an increase over the thirty-one reported in 1998. Fifty of the 1999 killings occurred in the second quarter of the year and led to the arrest of some officers. Allegations of police beatings and torture of criminal suspects also continued. Carmel Moise, a Florida resident and publisher of Caribbean Magazine, said that uniformed police entered her suburban Port-au-Prince house on July 6, demanding money and drugs, then beat her and burned her with a hot iron, leaving wounds that showed clearly in subsequent photographs.

According to the police inspector general, 673 police officers were dismissed from the PNH between its creation in 1995 and October 1999, 407 of them on the basis of his office's investigations, and the rest by decision of the leadership of the police. Probable human rights violations were committed in at least 130 cases, according to the MICIVIH.

Haiti's prisons continued to be filled far beyond capacity, with an estimated 80 percent of inmates in pretrial detention, roughly one-third of them for more than a year. A local NGO network continued to monitor conditions in many of the country's nineteen prison facilities.

In December 1999, responding to a hunger strike, a Port-au-Prince prosecutor freed on humanitarian grounds twenty-one long-term pretrial detainees, many of whom had never been formally charged. The men included Evans François, brother of military government police chief Michel François, charged with subversion in April 1996, and nine former military officers who had been held for fifteen months on charges of endangering state security after protesting non-payment of their pensions. Former Duvalier-era army general Claude Raymond, detained since 1996 on charges of plotting against state security, died in detention in February after several release orders issued by the judge in his case were ignored by the authorities.

Impunity for past abuses remained a serious concern, but there were encouraging steps toward justice. Two important trials took place. The first, that of six police officers accused of the 1999 murder of eleven people in the capitol's Carrefour Feuilles district, was held in August. During three weeks of proceedings, the prosecution presented physical evidence as well as twenty-seven witnesses, including PNH General Director Pierre Denizé. The defendants, who included former Port-au-Prince police chief Jean Colls Rameau, were assisted by qualified legal counsel. Most defendants received three-year sentences for manslaughter, a penalty criticized as inappropriately lenient by local human rights groups.

The second key trial-that of former army officers and paramilitaries implicated in an April 1994 massacre in Raboteau, Gonaïves-opened on September 29. This long-awaited prosecution was based on several years of preparation by a mixed Haitian and international prosecutorial team. Of the fifty-eight defendants in the case, twenty-two were in custody, while others such as Raoul Cedras and Michelle François, leaders of the 1991 coup, and Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, the leader of the paramilitary organization FRAPH, were in exile.

A French court in November 1999 dismissed a lawsuit filed by several Haitians against former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, resident in France since 1986. The suit accused him of crimes against humanity, but the court ruled that French law does not cover such crimes committed prior to 1994, except those that occurred during World War II.

Defending Human Rights

The Haitian government did not systematically target human rights monitors, but the polarized political environment complicated the task of defending human rights. At an April 7 demonstration to protest Jean Dominique's assassination, for example, some 300 women belonging to a coalition of seven leading women's organizations were harassed by male supporters of Fanmi Lavalas, apparently because they did not accuse opposition political leaders of responsibility for the journalist's death.

No progress was made in the investigation into the March 1999 shooting of Pierre Espérance, Haiti director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights.

In a welcome development that attested to the maturity of the Haitian human rights movement, a number of groups participated in well-organized election monitoring efforts, producing credible reports documenting fraud and other irregularities.

The Role of the International Community

By 2000, the three-year political impasse in Haiti had led to the suspension of some U.S. $500 million in multilateral assistance, with donor countries pressing the government of René Préval to restore a working parliament ahead of presidential elections scheduled for the end of 2000. But the initially positive reaction to the May 21 elections began to shift with news of the arrests of opposition candidates and supporters, and turned into a tide of criticism when Haitian officials refused to acknowledge that the Senate calculation method was incorrect. Focusing on the calculation issue, the United States, Canada, France, and the U.N. Security Council called on the Haitian government to revise the election results. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) sent a high-level mediator to Haiti in early July, but to no effect.

With the fraudulent election results firmly entrenched, Haiti's main bilateral donors began to signal aid cutbacks. France, in its role as president of the European Union, initiated a review of provisions of the Lomé Convention, to which Haiti is a party, which could lead to the suspension of a nearly $200 million aid package. Canada also announced a reevaluation of its aid programs.

Relations between Haiti and the international community were further strained in July and August by several grenade or Molotov cocktail attacks on foreign missions and foreigners in Port-au-Prince, which, however, did not result in injuries.

United Nations

The six-year-old human rights monitoring mission, MICIVIH, and the U.N. peacekeeping mission departed Haiti in early 2000 and were replaced by the smaller United Nations International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (Mission internationale civile d'appui en Haïti, MICAH).

In January, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy released a report based on her June 1999 visit to Haiti. Among the problems she noted were the country's "dysfunctional judiciary" and the fact that most women prisoners share living quarters with male prisoners, exposing them to violence and sexual abuse. At its April session, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution on Haiti expressing its concern over delays in the electoral process and calling upon Haiti to hold "free, fair and prompt elections." It also extended the mandate of its independent expert on Haiti another year.

Organization of American States

The OAS-EOM, staffed by twenty-two international observers and assisted by about eighty delegates provided by national governments, arrived in Haiti in late February to monitor the elections and provide technical assistance to Haitian election officials. When Haiti went ahead with the second-round elections on July 9, the OAS-EOM declined to monitor the balloting, withdrawing its observers from the country.

The OAS held a special session on Haiti on July 13, followed by a mission to Haiti headed by Secretary General Cesar Gaviria on August 17-19. Reporting on the mission, Gaviria voiced the international community's "skepticism and worries" about democracy in Haiti. At this writing, mediation efforts continued. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Haiti in August 2000, identifying as the most worrisome aspect a "deterioration of the political climate to the point where there seems to be no political consensus on how to consolidate the country's nascent democracy."

United States

In September, the U.S. announced it would provide no aid to the Haitian government and no support for the presidential elections. "We will pursue policies that distinguish between helping the people of Haiti and assisting the government of Haiti," said the U.S. ambassador to the OAS. Earlier, the United States had shut down its five-year-old program of support for Haitian police training.

The Clinton Administration continued to block efforts toward truth and justice in Haiti by retaining some 160,000 pages of documents seized from the Haitian military and FRAPH in September 1994. U.S. officials stated they would only hand the materials over to the Haitian government after excising the names of U.S. citizens, a condition the Préval government continued to reject. FRAPH leader Constant, previously an informer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), remained in Queens, New York, having been extended protection from deportation. Fifteen high-ranking Haitian officers, including most of the coup-era high command, were also resident in the United States, having emigrated from Haiti after Aristide's return.

This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.