National Coalition for Haitian Rights

Washington Office on Latin America

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch

Center for International Policy

International Human Rights Law Group

Open Statement on the Human Rights Situation in Haiti

April 25, 2000

We are gravely concerned at the nature of the recent election-related violence in Haiti, culminating in the death of journalist Jean Dominique on April 3, 2000. A three-year-old political crisis whose resolution turns on the holding of long-delayed parliamentary elections has again turned violent. Dominique's death was only the most recent culmination of a pattern of politically-related street disturbances, killing of political figures, and attacks on and threats aimed at journalists and human rights activists not witnessed since the dark days of the 1991­94 coup. We are alarmed at this slide toward anarchy and call upon the Haitian government, election officials, and political figures and parties to take immediate measures to halt the violence and hold elections as soon as possible. We are encouraged by the recent agreement to hold the first round of the vote on May 21, and urge the international community to provide the additional resources needed to address election organization problems and to deploy a full monitoring mission to evaluate the fairness of the vote on election day.

Five years after the US/UN intervention restored constitutional order with the return of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, democracy in Haiti is in severe crisis. The Lavalas coalition that brought Aristide to power in 1990 fractured in 1996, leading to a struggle over political power that has paralyzed the country. Parliamentary elections failed in 1997 and subsequent efforts to appoint a prime minister and cabinet deadlocked. President René Préval shut the parliament in January 1999 and proceeded to appoint a government and rule extra-constitutionally by decree. Efforts to organize new elections to produce a new parliament began in March 1999, but have moved forward haltingly as elections officials proved unable to manage the technical and logistical challenges. The elections have been rescheduled three times, with political tension and violence increasing after each delay. Meanwhile, widespread reforms launched in 1995 to build democratic institutions have collapsed: the judicial system is dysfunctional, prisons are still warehouses for pre-trial detainees, and the Haitian National Police is in growing disarray, with ongoing serious human rights abuses and its integrity challenged by political interference and drugs-related corruption. Foreign assistance for non-humanitarian purposes is largely frozen. The economy of the hemisphere's poorest country is tottering.

New elections to restore constitutional legitimacy to the government are a necessary first step out of this crisis. We have become alarmed, then, by the incessant delays and the associated escalating political violence and intimidation. In just the last few weeks, small groups have engaged in almost-continuous politically-related street violence, burning tires and attacking cars; a local party leader and his wife were killed in their homes; Dominique was assassinated; and political leaders, journalists and human rights activists have reported receiving threats, leading several to go into hiding. We were particularly concerned by the actions taken by small groups of self-professed Lavalas and Aristide supporters on the day of Jean Dominique's funeral. After vociferous chants of "Aristide or death" at the memorial service, these groups took to the streets and attacked the headquarters of an opposition coalition, burning it to the ground. Police who were present did not interfere. A similar effort to attack a radio station critical of the government was broken up by security officials. No arrests were made in any of these cases. They continue a cycle of violence and impunity in Haiti that includes the still-unsolved murders of several prominent political figures over the last few years, including the killing of Haitian Senator Yvon Toussaint.

We reiterate that the responsibility for ending this violence and bringing the perpetrators to justice rests with President Préval and the Haitian government. We call upon President Préval, Prime Minister Alexis and all political leaders and candidates to publicly and unequivocally condemn this violence and to insist that the elections be carried out peacefully, without the threats and attacks that have come to characterize the campaign. We particularly call upon former president Aristide to speak publicly on this issue, since most of the groups engaged in violence in the streets--including those that burned the opposition coalition headquarters on the day of the Dominique funeral--claim to be acting in his name. We are disturbed that Mr. Aristide personally has not used the considerable moral force and political goodwill that he still enjoys in Haiti to condemn the violence.

Finally, we urge the United States and the rest of the international community to dedicate the resources necessary to help the forthcoming elections succeed. This should include technical and financial donations. Just as importantly, however, the UN and the OAS should immediately expand the size of the small election observer operation presently in Haiti to enable it to cover and report upon elections organizing and the final vote in all major areas of the country. Given the strength of US demands for early Haiti elections it is disconcerting that Congressional holds on funds for election observers have not yet been lifted. With the recent closure of the UN/OAS Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) and slow progress in funding a successor technical assistance operation, the international presence in Haiti is very thin at the moment. Given the importance of these elections and the recent chaos and violence across the country, adequate observer missions are needed more than ever to provide independent information on the fairness of the vote and human rights conditions leading up to the elections.

We share the disillusion and disappointment of those who rejoiced at the end of repression in Haiti in 1994 only to see hopes for a new, democratic Haiti free of the human rights horrors of the past now threatened by the inability of those leaders who opposed the Duvalier tyranny to work together for Haiti's future. We call upon these leaders to reject the political practices of the past and to rededicate themselves to building a democratic society in which human rights are respected.

Jocelyn McCalla, executive director
275 Seventh Avenue, 17th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10001
George R. Vickers, executive director
1630 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
Michael Posner, executive director
333 Seventh Avenue, 13th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10001
Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director, Americas Division
1630 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 500
Washington, D.C. 20009
James R. Morrell, research director
1755 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Gay McDougall, executive director
1200 18th Street, N.W., Suite 602
Washington, D.C. 20036