Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Haiti, one year later

Nearly a year since U.S. Marines escorted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti, human rights observers say state-sponsored abuses have escalated. Most of the abuses have taken place in poor parts of Port-au-Prince, where support for Aristide still runs strong and armed groups demanding his return defy the government and clash with police.

"The human rights situation in Haiti is critical right now," said Judy Dacruz, an independent human rights lawyer based in Port-au-Prince. "There has been a complicity of silence about these killings. The authorities don't even acknowledge violations are taking place, and the majority of the press are simply ignoring what is going on."

Dacruz has documented 14 cases, including the murder of Jean, since October, in which witnesses said police officers summarily executed unarmed people. In three other cases, people who were taken into police custody either showed up dead or were never seen again.

Accusations of abuse against Aristide led to the Organization of American States to freeze millions of dollars in aid to his government. But abuses of the government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue have been all but ignored--in spite of peacekeeping troops still occupying the island.

"It's worse than I would have expected," David Beer, commissioner of the 1,400 UN civilian police in Haiti, said. "If the human rights situation isn't changing, and obviously changing, and the public has the confidence that it is changing, we can't have a secure and stable environment. People won't move around the country in day-to-day activities. They won't go shopping. They won't participate in elections in the same way.

The first round of presidential elections is set for Nov. 13.

Lavalas leaders have accused the government of a campaign of repression meant to stamp out support for Aristide and to dissuade the poor from voting. The government says it is battling illegal gangs that aim to destabilize the government"

Meanwhile, the killing in the slums goes on.


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