(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- Human rights violations persist throughout Haiti by police officers, former members of the Haitian Armed Forces, armed gangs and civilians, despite the presence of the UN's 7,600-strong peacekeeping force, the Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), warns an Amnesty International report released Thursday.
The current crisis escalated with the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, and continues with an ongoing dispute over the legitimacy of the U.S.-backed interim government led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.
According to the Amnesty report, titled "Haiti: Disarmament Delayed, Justice Denied," the interim government "has shown little resolve to work with MINUSTAH towards effectively stabilising the country. The result is a climate of near-anarchy, bolstered by a corrupt and brutal police force."
Amnesty's researcher on Haiti and author of the report, Gerard Ducos, told IPS, "We hope that the interim government and MINUSTAH consider our recommendations now in order to lay down grounds for improvements to be made and not wait for after the elections," which are expected this fall.
MINUSTAH's mandate for "disarmament, demobilization and reintegration" of Haiti's armed groups has failed to make tangible progress, according to Amnesty.
In fact, the United Nations is itself under fire for the alleged killings of innocent civilians by its peacekeeping troops in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on July 6, during an anti-gang raid.
Amnesty said MINUSTAH lacks the military might and intelligence to secure the areas where most violence occurs, such as in poor Port-au-Prince neighborhoods like Cite Soleil, Bel-Air, Martissant, Delmas and Vilage de Dieu.
"Civilians are the daily victims of armed gangs and of repression by the police," the report says. "(MINUSTAH's) military presence is limited to the main streets where its patrols are present. In the small winding alleys that stretch throughout Cite Soleil, the civilian population continues to suffer grave abuses as the armed gangs kill, rape, burn and loot with impunity."
The report says MINUSTAH personnel told Amnesty's delegation that "the mission lacks executive power to undertake independent policing activity."
Part of MINUSTAH's goal is to "professionalize" the Haitian National Police (HNP), according to the May 6 report of the Security Council Mission to Haiti. But despite these good intentions, support for the mission among the Haitian population "fades away with every abuse reportedly committed with impunity by the national police," according to Amnesty's report.
In one incident last October, at least nine young people were reportedly shot dead in the Fort National neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. The killings occurred after four police vehicles and an ambulance arrived in the area, bearing individuals dressed in black uniforms with the word "Police" written on their backs, the report says.
"Faces hidden in balaclavas, they reportedly ordered the occupants of a house to lie on the ground and shot them without provocation or apparent motive," the report says. "Despite numerous witnesses and other evidence, representatives of the HNP have consistently denied such an incident ever took place."
Ducos believes one short-term solution would be for MINUSTAH to openly report on observed human rights violations and follow up on their reports with thorough investigations.
Although MINUSTAH is supposed to pay special attention to violence against women, Ducos says there has not much improvement. In one of three case examples, the report describes a July 9, 2004 incident in which a woman was raped and beaten by three men wearing black clothes and balaclavas in her home in Delmas 33, Port-au-Prince.
"She was three months pregnant. The men were allegedly HNP officers who came looking for her husband, a former National Palace employee under the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide," the report states.
The Haitian State University Hospital in Port-au-Prince provided the woman with a medical certificate stating, "possible sexual violence and genital infection." It says the victim was too scared to report the incident to the police, partly due to the fact that her husband remained in hiding.
Despite Haiti's recent legal recognition of rape as a crime, Ducos said, "The situation is decaying more and moreł recent victims of rape are not confident in confiding in the police, since they are seen as a repressive force. Lots of victims of rape don't come forward to file a complaint to the (HNP) or NGOs."
The recent UN Security Council mission to Haiti emphasized that democratic elections are essential to ensure a sustainable political transition and socio-economic development. While the Amnesty report agrees that these are legitimate long-term goals, it stresses that the day-to-day violence must be countered immediately.
Ducos believes MINUSTAH and non-governmental organizations should provide more accessible, experienced workers in fields such as gender violence and other issues related to human rights violations.
"MINUSTAH must continue to assist in the restructuring and training of the HNP and other law enforcement agents, ensuring that this includes training in international human rights and humanitarian law," Amnesty urged. "Only with a professional, accountable police force can good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights become a reality for Haiti."
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