The silence of the graveyard:
by Mike Levy
March 15, 2004
Calls to Haiti over the weekend and this morning suggest that the human rights situation in Haiti remains extremely serious. Even in some parts of the capital, where there may be some outward semblance of calm during the day, there are many reports of human rights violations taking place during the night, and survivors of the death squads that terrorized the country from 1991-1994 say that it is not just a handful of rebel leaders who have come back to destroy their democracy, it is an army composed of the very same death squads to whom they said "Never Again".
All but gone is the diverse, if polarized media environment of just a few months ago where every issue was debated. The US-supported opposition to President Aristide now literally owns most of the airwaves. In the past several weeks, at least five influential, independent radio stations have been silenced. In Port-au Prince Radio Solidarite's reporters have been attacked and beaten on several occasions in recent weeks, and a minibus used for reporting was destroyed. Threats accusing the station of refusing to support the line of the opposition are continuing. The station has been silenced since February 29. In Cap-Haitien, Radio Afrika and Radio Verite were destroyed some three weeks ago. In St. Marc, Radio Pyramide and Radio America were attacked by the RAMICOS opposition paramilitary group and have fallen silent. Staff from Aristide government media continue to be attacked and beaten, and Radio and Tele Ti-Moun have also been forced off the air. Some journalists have been forced into exile. Yet, despite this stifling of free speech, many courageous journalists vow to find a way to continue to report the news as best they can. Attacks have also been carried out against media sympathetic to or owned by the opposition. In some cases the attackers cite the media's incitement to violence and hatred against supporters of Pres. Aristide. Little has been done to date to reassure the population that the rule of law will be applied fairly to all.
Today's attack on freedom of the press is no coincidence. The media model perfected in the vitriolic conservative media campaign in the U.S. to demonize and then impeach Pres. Bill Clinton has been successfully exported to Haiti for the past several years by the International Republican Institute and other U.S. and European agencies. The anti-Aristide media's innuendo and rumor, distortions and fabrications have greatly contributed to the success thus far of the coup, and some of their most reckless broadcasts have fueled the polarization and nourished the climate of violence to which some pro-Aristide elements have responded with intense violence of their own.
As a result, most Haitians listening to radios have probably not been able to hear even a single word from their elected President since February 29th, nor have they heard the press release of the FL party, even though it called for reflection, courage and patience.
Unfortunately, in a chilling reminder of the mistakes of the past, early indications suggest that the installed interim government in Haiti and the U.S. government sees grass roots supporters of the elected president as the primary "enemy" just as they did throughout the military coup d'etat from 1991-1994.
Large numbers of arrests of supporters of Pres. Aristide have been carried out over the past weekend. Only a few names are available. There is very little police comment about the arrests, and little possibility of confirming whether the arrests complied with Haitian law. Similarly, the paucity of information provided by U.S. officials regarding the killings of Haitians by the U.S. Marines and their methods of house-to-house searches, arouse longstanding concerns about the authority for the US rules of engagement and terms of reference, as we have seen in Iraq, where U.S. officials boast of not even tracking the numbers of Iraqis seriously injured by U.S. military personnel.
The human rights situation in Cap-Haitien, Hinche and Gonaives, all under the control of the "rebels" for several weeks, remains agonizingly "unknowable". Rumors, such as reports of the imprisonment of some 20 Aristide supporters in a container in Cap-Haitien for several days before the victims were dumped into the sea by the rebels, have not yet been confirmed. The traditional protections against human rights violations, such as a free press, an elected government, a dynamic human rights community that includes organizations not associated with a political organization, are all absent from Haiti today, while international organizations such as the UN and the OAS have yet to take significant steps on the human rights front since the start of the coup, other than to express general concerns about violence and humanitarian issues. One wonders whether the Security Council action on Haiti thus far is the best the UN has to offer on the question of human rights in Haiti since the coup.
Most astonishing of all is the deafening silence and the doublespeak on the part of the UN and many international human rights organizations when faced with the crushing of democratic institutions of an elected government in Haiti. Apparently, the right of millions of Haitians not to see their elected government be conquered city by city by a well-equipped "army" streaming over the Haitian border, is not a human rights issue of concern to the UN or the major international human rights organizations. It's a wonder the "international community" ever persuaded so many millions of human rights activists living in abject misery in developing countries that popular justice is wrong and they should believe in the International Bill of Rights and the increasingly hollow promise of international human rights solidarity in a post 9/11 world. Thankfully CARICOM, along with some powerful voices in the U.S. Congress have had the courage and commitment thus far to stand up and assert the obligations of states under the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter, which takes very seriously any interruption of elected government through the use of force. An increasing number of activists and journalists are firmly attached to this struggle to defend the voices and hard-won achievements of Haitian democracy in these difficult times.