Alleged attacks by police, gangs investigated in Haiti
U.N. Civilian Police and human rights officials are investigating three alleged attacks by police in Haiti, including a massacre in front of spectators at a soccer match.
PORT-AU-PRINCE – The police carried assault rifles and wore black masks. The gang they accompanied had brand-new machetes. According to witnesses and U.N. investigators, they stormed into a soccer match during halftime, ordered everyone to lie on the ground and began shooting and hacking people to death in broad daylight as several thousand spectators fled for their lives.
The Aug. 20 attack left at least six dead and has raised fears among U.N. officials trying to stabilize this lawless city that bands of police — working with gangs and guided by some unknown player in Haitian politics — are ”cleaning up” before November’s elections.
”This has been the case in almost every election cycle,” said Damien Onses-Cardona, a spokesman for the United Nations’ peacekeeping force. “We are very alert because we know the history of this kind of violence in this country.”
Haiti’s new police chief, Mario Andresol, said this week that several officers were being questioned about the killings and would likely be arrested, according to The Associated Press.
Historically, Haitian governments have done little to punish human rights abusers in their ranks. And the current U.S.-backed government — which replaced that of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide when he was ousted last year — has drawn mounting criticism from international organizations, diplomats, even the U.S. ambassador for failing to stop the summary arrests and worse of Aristide supporters.
In the capital’s vast slums, where support for Aristide’s Lavalas Family Party is strongest, residents complain that police in black masks regularly execute young men. But since the alleged attacks usually occur at night in places also terrorized by heavily armed gangs — often pro-Lavalas ones — it has been difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Now, U.N. Civilian Police and a U.N. human rights team are investigating at least three alleged attacks by police.
On Aug. 10, black-masked police and machete-wielding thugs attacked a gang member named Shaba in the neighborhood of Bel Air, killing him and at least two others and burning their bodies, U.N. officials said. And on Sunday, a similar police-backed mob torched five homes in the Grand Ravine neighborhood, the officials said.
But the attack on the soccer match in Martissant, caught on videotape and broadcast by a local TV station, was the most brazen, providing the biggest piece of evidence yet for allegations of police brutality under the current government.
An estimated 5,000 people attended the soccer game, which was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development to promote peace in the crime-plagued neighborhood. One witness, Fontaine Lenaud, said more than a dozen police trucks filled with anti-riot officers surrounded the stadium around 5:30 p.m., just as the second half was set to begin.
”At first people seemed to be happy,” said Thierry Fagart, chief of the Human Rights Section of the U.N. mission in Haiti, who viewed the tape and interviewed witnesses. “And then you hear one gunshot. You see police ordering people to lie down. People were running.”
Lenaud, like everyone else, tried frantically to escape.
”People were jumping over walls trying to get out,” he said. “With my own eyes I saw six or seven bodies.”
Witnesses told Fagart that police distributed machetes to local gang members, who pointed out rivals from a pro-Lavalas gang at the match.
Some were handcuffed and shot in the head by police, witnesses said. Others were hacked to death.
”All the executions were outside the stadium,” Fagart said. “Some were hit by machetes and then finished off with a shot to the head.”
Fagart estimated that at least nine people died, but added that investigators were unable to confirm this because bodies are often dumped in the hills outside the city.
Andresol, the police chief, told the AP that six people were killed. He said an investigation determined the only people at the scene with guns were the police, “so we know police did the shooting.”
He did not say how many officers were involved.
U.N. Civilian Police, in Haiti to train the national police force, are investigating the origin of the machetes to determine who may have orchestrated the attack.