Shredding Haiti's Constitution:
UN Betrayal in Port au Prince
April 5, 2005
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Read My Lips! We are fighting for our Constitution. Haitians are proud of their constitution and many lives have been lost to defend it. On March 29, 2005, the 18th anniversary of the constitution, Brazilian troops prevented Haitians from exercising their right to assembly. This Lavalas demonstrator in Cap Haitien (8/11/04) counters the misinformation being perpetrated by the U.S. State Department and Associated Press. Photo: ©2004 Zoe Moskowitz

Shredding Haiti's Constitution:
UN Betrayal in Port au Prince

by Sasha Kramer

On February 28 Brazilian UN troops, part of the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti, stood by as police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing five and wounding dozens. Following the demonstration UN officials condemned the shooting and for the first time stated that if this happened again they would intervene "with force if necessary". They also restricted the police from attending several demonstrations later that week.

These bold, and ultimately disingenuous, statements from UN special envoy Juan Gabriel Valdes created a moment of hopefulness and peaceful demonstrations swelled in numbers over the past weeks in response to the heightened security brought about by conspicuous police absence. People felt a new degree of safety and the nonviolent pro-democracy movement was gaining tremendous momentum.

Until last Thursday, March 24, when police once again opened fire on thousands of unarmed demonstrators in Cite Soleil as they courageously took to the streets to demand the return of President Aristide and the release of all political prisoners in Haiti. Reports indicate that between 3 and 5 people were killed. Apparently UN forces were present at the demonstration but not in sight when the shooting took place. They have yet to release a statement about the incident.

Then on Thursday evening Father Gerard Jean Juste, beloved priest and pro-democracy activist, was attacked by an assailant as he returned to the church rectory. Friends managed to chase the attacker away and later he was captured and detained by community members. Then the following evening as Father Jean Juste was doing a live interview with Flashpoints radio on KPFA in Berkeley several men in black masks jumped out of a car and began firing at the rectory with machine guns.

These attacks eerily came on the same day that Father Jean Juste delivered a special mass commemorating the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a liberation theologian killed by US trained militias in El Salvador on March 24, 1980.

Calls were made to the Brazilian UN following both incidents but UN troops did not arrive on the scene until Saturday evening's Easter mass.

On Tuesday March 29 thousands gathered in Bel Air to peacefully commemorate the signing of their constitution and to demand that the international community respect that constitution, starting with the return of the duly elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Prior to the march organizers negotiated the route with MINUSTAH. Then on the morning of the demonstration MINUSTAH soldiers distributed flyers in Bel Air saying that the government had declared the march illegal. Despite these warnings thousands of people gathered in Bel Air to demand their constitutional right to protest on the 18th anniversary of the constitution.

What follows is an account of Radio Ginen's footage of Tuesday's events

---- Apparently, things broke down when Gen. Heleno (shown on camera with an army helmet) claiming that MINUSTAH's demonstration permit (shown on camera) was not valid because the demonstrators had not simultaneously informed BOTH MINUSTAH and the PNH with the necessary advance notice. MINUSTAH alone does not suffice.

The demonstration's organizers then made the argument that they cannot be filing the permit request with the PNH when it is the same PNH that is gunning demonstrators down at demonstrations.

The argument became heated and high-volume, with choice words exchanged, after which Heleno declared "It's your country, not mine. I'm not the legal authority here, the PNH is. You must recognize their authority," and the crowd chanting "MINUSTAH must go" before Heleno retreated to his vehicle. The demonstration continued, but MINUSTAH blocked off the planned demonstration pathway, and the crowd could not get to the Palace area. Chaos ensued, shooting, several people injured with gunshot wounds, apparently from MINUSTAH.

A demonstrator said 'MINUSTAH completely dispersed the demo. People are frustrated, MINUSTAH didn't let people demonstrate. Juan Gabriel Valdes gave the assurance allowing the people to demonstrate, and it's not being respected. There is a "kouri" (free-for-all). MINUSTAH's spokesperson assured us security, along the route we planned with MINUSTAH. That was our program, to demand that the constitution be respected. MINUSTAH shot tear gas and crushed the demonstration. Shooting is occurring. MINUSTAH is firing on us. Latortue asked us for 48 hour notice. We gave them 72. Why are they shooting us?

The constitution is 18 years old. Today, all Haitians celebrating the 18th year, but it's desolaton and insecurity. The occupiers and the sell-outs are holding the country hostage. Journalists, police, students are dying, no one has security, any way Latortue and Boniface are giving the country away to United States, Canada, and France, but the final victory will be for the people in struggle.'-----

Just last week Father Jean Juste said "As long as MINUSTAH's position supports the enjoyment of our human rights, we'll walk along. If they return to their oppressive attitude, we'll reject them like we did for the killer policemen."

Why this return to an oppressive attitude? This reversal of tactic on the part of MINUSTAH is doubly egregious. They directly participated in human rights abuses, including the severe beating of a 12 year old boy, and they mislead and betrayed the organizers, making false promises regarding security provisions.

These past weeks marked a critical moment for the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti. UN officials were faced with a choice between two conflicting components of their mandate: to back an illegitimate government and a violent police force infiltrated by the former military or to protect human rights.

In the first year following the overthrow of the democratically elected government UN troops primarily focused on fulfilling the first part of their mandate to the detriment of human rights, and numerous lives were lost as a result of this duplicitous and politically repressive policy.

On January 5 UN troops arrested Jimmy Charles, a Lavalas organizer. Community members begged them not to turn him over to the police, fearing for his life. Ignoring these demands the UN turned him over to the police and on January 15 his body was found in the morgue with 6 bullets.

The people of Haiti, particularly the families of those that died, have not forgotten this incident, nor have they forgotten that it was the UN that trained the police and continues to prop up an illegitimate government in direct violation of their OAS obligations.

Nonetheless there were many who heard Juan Gabrial Valdes say that "the U.N. mandate for the peacekeepers--which requires them to support the police no matter the circumstances--is being reevaluated at the highest levels" and felt a moment of hope.

Was it possible that a combination of international pressure and personal shame would move the UN to change their policy? There seemed to be some recognition that the MINUSTAH mandate, as written, is untenable. It is simply impossible to defend human rights when one is required to back those committing the abuses.

Hope was further bolstered as the UN began to take aggressive steps to dislodge the former military from several towns where they have been terrorizing the populations. Three UN peacekeepers lost their lives last week in violent clashes with the former soldiers. There appeared to be a new willingness to take the necessary risks involved in any serious disarmament plan, unfortunately at the cost of several lives.

These acts, though commendable, should not overshadow the fact that for months the UN allowed the former soldiers to terrorize much of the countryside around Port au Prince. Nor should it draw attention away from the return to an oppressive UN policy of working with an abusive police force to do the bidding of an unelected US-backed government.

Sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly, the events of the past week, particularly the direct attacks on demonstrators on March 29, indicate that the much hoped for shift in UN policy has not occurred. In fact the pendulum has swung sharply in the opposite direction, making it more important than ever that the international community put pressure on the United Nations and the Brazilian government to ensure the safety of unarmed civilians.

Although individual soldiers are ultimately responsible for their actions, there are larger forces at play that are intent on defending the legitimacy of an unelected and unpopular government at the expense of innocent lives. Troops on the ground are forced to comply with a mandate dictated by the United States, France and Canada and they will have to live with the memory of the lives lost as a result of their inaction and ongoing collaboration with a brutal police force.

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