October 19, 2005: Update News From Haiti
On Friday, September 23, 2005, the Director General of the Haiti National Police Leon Charles, UN Force Commander Lieutanant General Augusto Heleno Ribiero Pereira of Brazil, and the Special Representative of the United Nations Juan Valdes of Chile were convicted of violations of Haitian law and international law including crimes against humanity. This verdict was delivered by the jury of the First Session of the International Tribunal on Haiti. The Tribunal was held in Washington, DC at George Washington University at the Elliott School of International Affairs.
The International Tribunal on Haiti has been organized by a coalition of Haiti solidarity groups, including the Haiti Support Network, and supported by the Latin America Solidarity Coalition (LASC lasolidarity.org), which sponsored and funded the Tribunal. The Tribunal will continue for several sessions over the next seven months, to investigate reports of human rights violations and seek accountability for crimes against humanity. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark is the lead member of the Commission of Inquiry that will investigate charges generated by the Tribunal. The Commission will conduct fact-finding inquiries in Haiti, the United States and other countries. The verdicts of the Tribunal will be used to generate a case that will be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Haiti screams for your attention. It is a killing field in its structural poverty, and in the constant violence visited upon the impoverished population by rogue police forces aided, horribly, by United Nations "peace-keeping" troops. The Tribunal brought together a distinguished group of experts and eyewitnesses to expose the crimes being committed against the people of Haiti.
The Tribunal is structured in a fashion similar to United Nations Tribunals, a procedural conflation of European and Anglo legal traditions. The presiding Judges are former Haitian Ambassador Ben Dupuy, Attorney Brian Concannon, and Attorney Lucie Tondreau. The Investigating Judge is Attorney Tom Griffin, assisted by Attorney Lionel Jean-Baptiste. The Chief Prosecutor is Attorney Desiree Wayne, assisted by Attorneys Kim Ives and Ray LaForest. The Jury is an international panel of citizens chosen for their interest, knowledge and ability to assess the testimony.
The indictment charges 21 individuals with violations of Haitian and international law. It delineates the justification for assigning criminal responsibility to those individuals, specifically, "No distinction has been made based on official capacity. Official capacity shall not exempt a person from criminal responsibility." This is a crucial point to be made in this era of State repression, a point made at Nuremberg, and a necessary recognition that a person cannot commit atrocities in the name of a State or institution and then use the uniform or position as a justification for the crime.
The defendants are UN personnel, US military personnel, Canadian military personnel, French personnel, members and former members of the Police Nationale dHaiti (PNH), and members and former members of the former "rebel" force that assaulted Haitian society in 2004.
The initial charges list 15 counts of attacks, executions and massacres that occurred between March of 2004 and August of 2005. Each count includes the killing of civilians and each describes an act of terror against the civil population. These violent crimes occur within a social and political context that has been stripped of democracy by the governing powers, namely, the United States, Canada and France. The Prosecution began with an exposition of the history of Haiti, and the events that led up to the coup of February, 2004, which removed the elected government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide and ushered in the wave of violence addressed in the Indictment.
The first witness was Jeb Sprague, an expert on the destabilization of Haitian society prior to the coup, representing the Latin America Solidarity Coalition. He charted the web of organizations funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, the United States Agency for International Development, the National Democracy Institute, and the Chamber of Commerce that created an "unnatural" opposition to Aristide. The programs of such groups as the International Republican Institute, funded by the NED, were called "democratic enhancement", but were really a means to create discord in a nation weakened by harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United States.
Canadian journalist Ives Engler then presented his testimony on the roles of Canada, the United States and France in the destabilization of Haiti. He spoke of "The Ottawa Initiative on Haiti", held in Ottawa on January 31 February 1, 2003, at which Otto Reich, OAS representatives, and Canadian officials decided the fate of Haiti, with no Haitians present. His findings were submitted to the Tribunal. (See "Canada in Haiti, Waging War on the Poor Majority", 2005, by Ives Engler and Anthony Fenton, Red Publishing, Fernwood Publishing.)
The next witness, Attorney Ira Kurzban, represented the government of Haiti during the government of Aristide in its attempts to collect monies stolen by the Duvalier family, and to recover reparations from France. He noted the 13 years of opposition that Aristide faced upon his initial electoral victory in 1991, which included the advice of Jimmy Carter, that he not take the office that he had won so convincingly. Mr. Kurzban testified to the kidnapping of Aristide by US Special Forces, and to the corrupt nature of the US-installed government after the Feb. 29, 2004 coup.
The last witness in this phase of the inquiry was Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, the Minister of Migration in the Aristide government, who testified to his kidnapping and expulsion from Haiti under threat of death during the coup.
At this point, the Tribunal had been presented with the background to the period of crisis faced by Haiti at the time of the coup of February 2004. A government of rebel thugs armed and trained by the United States was in control of the streets of Haiti. It should be noted that this initial exposition of the context of Haiti today was presented in thumbnail fashion, and was treated with some skepticism by the Judges, for good reason, as it did not address directly crimes against humanity. The Prosecution argued that the testimony was important to understand the intentional subversion of civil society and Haitian democracy in Haiti by the United States, Canada and France. Therefore, there exists today an inability for existing institutions in Haiti to deal with the crimes in the Indictment. The Judges allowed the testimony after argument, with the admonition to the jury that they had discretion as to the weight granted the evidence.
The testimony of any one of the witnesses at this session could have consumed the nights work. Each had extensive oral, video or written evidence to present to the Tribunal, and much of it had to be submitted rather than presented in full. The appearance in one place of so many powerful testimonies to crimes in Haiti was very effective to prove the case for the Prosecution. The necessarily truncated presentations were also a reminder that a Tribunal or court scenario is not always the best venue for creating drama. There is ground to be covered, much to be done in a limited time.
The next witness was Kevin Pina, a US journalist freshly released from a Haitian jail. He testified about his arrest on September 10, when he uncovered a marauding group of Haitian National Police in the house of the imprisoned priest Jean Juste. He then provided personal and video testimony of the events he has witnessed during his years in Haiti. The video clip he showed of the massacres in Cite Soleil on July 6, 2005 was a powerful exposition of the poverty and terror that are daily life for Haiti. He testified to the participation of the UN occupation forces in the indiscriminate slaughter in poor neighborhoods. He has recently completed a video documentary, "Haiti: the Untold Story".
Pina was followed by Tom Griffin, who gave a capsulized version of his Human Rights Investigation of November, 2004. This report is available from EPICA, www.epica.org. It is an indispensable resource to understand Haiti 2005. It covers all aspects of the current situation, with photos and interviews of the key players in the struggle, not least the people of the barrios. It documents the incompetent, criminal occupation of the UN, as well as the sinister actions of the HNP and irregular Haitian forces.
Seth Donnelly was the final witness. He had been a participant in a human rights delegation in July of this year, sponsored by the San Francisco Labor Council. He was a witness to events in Cite Soleil surrounding the July 6 massacre. He had interviewed UN officials, and had produced a video of the events he witnessed. His video and testimony corroborated the statements of Kevin Pina.
The Prosecution chose to ask the jury for a verdict on the guilt or innocence of three of the defendants; Leon Charles, the former Director General of the Haiti National Police, Lieutanant General Augusto Heleno Ribiero Pereira of Brazil, UN Force Commander, and Juan Valdes of Chile, the Special Representative of the United Nations. Eleven of the jury of 12 voted guilty, one abstained. Thus, the Tribunal started with a judgment against the managers of the massacres, the architects of the policy of terror. The verdicts and the cases of all defendants were referred to the Commission of Inquiry for further investigation.
Ramsey Clark addressed the group at the close of the session. He sketched the history of Haiti, the perfidy of George W. Bushs attitude toward an elected government: "Aristide must go, Bush said". He noted the value of the recent Tribunal on the War in Iraq, and the need for such mechanisms by which people could hold governments accountable. Clark will lead a Commission of Inquiry to Haiti in October to gather further evidence and eyewitness testimony. The coming sessions of the International Tribunal on Haiti will further expose the reality of Haiti to the world, and will solidify a case to present to the International Criminal Court at The Hague for criminal prosecution.
The Latin America
Solidarity Coalition (LASC)
As a coalition of organizations and institutions working for global
justice in the Americas we of the Latin America Solidarity Coalition
are deeply troubled by the daily horrors of civil unrest in cities across
Haiti costing the lives of hundreds and thousands of Haitians. The overthrow
of the democratically elected government of Haiti by a superpower like
the US is a dangerous precedent. We need to send a clear message to
the Bush Administration that such actions are unacceptable and we will
hold accountable those responsible for these acts of injustice.
We are outraged at the imprisonment of President Aristide in the Central African Republic where he was held virtually incommunicado under house arrest for two weeks. We oppose any attempt to restrict President Aristide's freedom of speech and movement.
This act of regime change sets a dangerous precedent for the world and has a particularly destabilizing effect on Latin American countries. The US-engineered coup in Haiti is unethical and immoral and in clear violation of international and federal laws, for which the Bush Administration should be held accountable.
We demand a Congressional investigation into the Bush administrations removal of a foreign countrys leader from power. We join CARICOM and the African Union in condemning this removal of a democratically elected president. This is not the first time the US government has acted in direct military retaliation against governments who differ from its economic and political policies.
Finally, we strongly question the role of the free press in its biased coverage of events in Haiti. Corporate media legitimizes the new government appointed illegally by the United States and France, and continues to report that President Aristide left voluntarily, when in fact he was forced out of office through coercion, specifically by threats to the safety of his followers.
For the above reasons, we demand:
The unconditional and immediate return of President Aristide to Haiti in order to serve out his term of office until 2006; respect the vote of the Haitian people.
A congressional investigation into the role of the US government in the deliberate destabilization of the Haitian government and the implementation of the coup.
(Support Rep. Barbara Lee and John Conyers TRUTH Act, H.R. 3919.)
An immediate end to the repression and daily attacks on Lavalas supporters and those demanding the return of President Aristide.
In conclusion, we are alarmed by Bush Administrations audacity in forcibly removing an elected President from office in total disregard of international norms and laws. We are highly concerned by the overall negative image of the US in global politics. As progressive members of the global community, we strive to co-exist with people and government of the world in total respect for their sovereignty, which precludes coercive military attacks on foreign countries and their elected officials.
The Latin America Solidarity Coalition urges organizations and individuals
to demand that your legislators support H.R. 3919, the TRUTH Act, sponsored
by Reps. Conyers and Lee. In addition we urge your organization to sign
the petition from the Haiti Action Committee (HAC): www.haitiaction.net.
HAC is also coordinating accompaniment for targeted individuals and
organizations in Haiti. For the reports from recent delegations to Haiti