Amnesty International’s Track Record in Haiti
Haiti in focus ⬿

Amnesty International’s Track Record in Haiti

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January 30, 2007

Even though I admire and respect non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International, I’m continuously compelled to point out that they have a number of responsibilities which extend far beyond their mandate, whatever it may be.

Among others, this includes a social responsibility to act in the best interests of those effected by their actions; as well as to be fair and balanced/ to not take sides if there mandate is, for example, something as encompassing as protecting human rights.

Such organizations do not or should not have the luxury to pick and choose what they want to do, as they see fit. For instance, if there were two individuals arrested for their political beliefs – it would be their responsibility to assist both of them equally, not just one, because perhaps that one is well-known whereas the other is a so-called nobody.

As the issue becomes larger in scope, so too the responsibility.

In the case of Haiti, Amnesty International has been clearly falling short of their responsibility to the Haitian People.

Amnesty International’s Track Record in Haiti since 2004
By: Joe Emersberger,

The coup that ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004 led very predictably to the worst human rights disaster in the Western Hemisphere over the following two years.[1] It is worth reviewing how the world’s most famous human rights group, Amnesty International, responded.

Aristide was twice elected President (in 1990 and in 2000). His first government was overthrown in a coup in 1991. The outcome of the 1991 coup was horrific and well documented. Thousands were murdered; tens of thousands were raped and tortured; hundreds of thousands were driven into hiding. The victims were overwhelmingly supporters of Aristide and his Lavalas movement. The 1991 and 2004 coups were both the work of the US government, Haiti’s elite and their armed servants. Canada and France collaborated extensively with the planning and execution of the second coup.[2]

By mid April of 2004, three organizations had sent delegations to Haiti to investigate the aftermath of the coup: the Quixote Center based in Maryland, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean (EPICA). All drew very similar conclusions.[3]

They uncovered a massive terror campaign waged by the de facto government in collaboration with the UN forces in Haiti (later to be known as MINUSTAH) against Lavalas partisans. They reported that some Haitian human rights groups in particular the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) were unreliable due to their hostility towards Lavalas. The NLG and Quixote Center delegations observed “wanted” posters in NCHR offices which identified Aristide and other Lavalas officials as criminals. Both delegations reported that NCHR refused to carry out investigations in Lavalas strongholds such as Cite Soleil. Even at this early stage the NLG uncovered evidence in the state morgue of the huge death toll that was being exacted on Lavalas supporters. The state morgue reported that 1000 bodies had been disposed of a month after the coup – most obvious victims of violence. The morgue typically disposed of only 100 bodies a month.

The EPICA delegation suggested that people contact Amnesty to alert them of the unreliability of NCHR. It was a good suggestion because Pierre Esperance, NCHR’s director, had boasted in 2002 that

“I am a primary source of information for international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Most recently, I was invited to address the US State Department in a roundtable forum to discuss the human rights situation in Haiti.”[4]

His statement does not seem to have been much of an exaggeration. During the first four months after the coup Amnesty failed to call attention to the evidence that a massive assault on Lavalas was well underway. Amnesty’s statements suggested equivalence between armed Lavalas partisans and their opponents. For example, on April 8, 2004 Amnesty would state that

“…a large number of armed groups continue to be active throughout the country. These include both rebel forces and militias loyal to former President Aristide.” [5]

Amnesty criticized the de facto government for arresting “only Lavalas leaders” but it did not condemn the arrests, many of them made illegally. It expressed no doubts about the legal authority of the de facto government to make any arrests at all. Moreover, by April 8, 2004, many Lavalas officials such as Jocelerme Privert and Amanus Maette had been imprisoned without charge for longer than the 48 hours allowed by the Haitian Constitution. Amnesty had frequently protested violations of this nature in the past even in the case of Roger Lafontant, head of Duvalier’s infamous Tonton Macouts, who was arrested by Aristide’s first government in 1990 but in 2004 Amnesty was silent as the constitutional rights of elected officials were violated. [6]

It was not until a report issued in June of 2004 that Amnesty mentioned some of the facts other investigators had uncovered months earlier. It finally acknowledged that a ” large proportion of the victims of violence were Aristide supporters, including members of grassroots organizations and their relatives” It finally stated that “some human rights organizations who have been active in denouncing abuses committed under the Aristide period do not seem inclined to investigate abuses committed against pro-Aristide groups”. However, Amnesty failed to name any of those groups. The omission was harmful to the victims because NCHR, the most prominent Haitian human rights groups, was not only willfully blind to the campaign against Lavalas. It eagerly assisted with the campaign. On March 6, the de facto government made an agreement with NCHR to file criminal charges against anyone NCHR denounced. NCHR eventually changed its name to RNDDH at the request of its parent organization in New York, who wished to distance itself from its Haitian associates. Nevertheless, NCHR/RNDDH continues to be frequently and uncritically cited by the international press. [7]

Amnesty’s report of June, 2004 denounced the brutality of US marines who arrested Annette Auguste (“So Ann”), a popular folk singer and Lavalas activist. Her family members, including her 5 year old grandson, were handcuffed by the marines. However, Amnesty suggested that arresting her was justified by hastening to add “those suspected of responsibility for human rights abuses must be brought before a court of law.” Kevin Pina, a US filmmaker who worked with Haitian journalists to capture images of the post coup terror, pressed Amnesty to recognize So Ann as a political prisoner. Amnesty’s responded that it had “reliable information” that So Ann was guilty of crimes. Amnesty would not tell Pina who their sources were, but NCHR had publicly “saluted” So Ann’s arrest. She would remain imprisoned for 20 months without being charged before Amnesty would finally concede that she was arrested “solely for her political views.” She finally had her day in court in August, 2006 and was acquitted because no evidence was presented against her. [8]

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