Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
1889 F St., N.W.
USA 20006REF: Complaint regarding violations of the right to participate in representative government committed against [Names Withheld] and othersDear Executive Secretary Canton:
The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, and TransAfrica Forum present this petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on behalf of [Names Withheld], all Haitian citizens (the “Petitioners”), against the Interim Government of Haiti (IGH), and the governments of the United States of America and the Dominican Republic, for violations of Haitian citizens’ rights under Articles 1, 23, and 24 of the American Convention and Article XX of the American Declaration; and violations of the integrity, sovereignty, and self-determination of the Haitian people in contravention of the OAS Charter, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and all other international laws, treaties and norms as the Inter-American Commission deems appropriate. These violations all arose out of the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected government in February 2004, which deprived Petitioners of their right to participate in representative government.
Petitioners’ only hope of relief is before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Petitioners plead for the Commission’s attention and redress and offer their thanks for the Commission’s consideration.
Petitioners request that the identities of the Haitian citizen Petitioners be withheld from the defendant States; the identities of the signatories to this petition and their organizations may be disclosed to the defendant States.
This petition demonstrates that the IGH, the United States, and the Dominican Republic violated the rights of the Haitian people through a long-term, systematic plan that included: a) undermining the democratically elected Haitian government through a development-assistance embargo and by supporting both unarmed and armed opposition groups; b) overthrowing the democratically elected Haitian government and kidnapping its President in February 2004; and c) replacing it with a government with no constitutional or electoral legitimacy.
The petition is based on violations of Haitian citizens’ rights under Articles 1, 23, and 24 of the American Convention and Article XX of the American Declaration; and violations of the integrity, sovereignty, and self-determination of the Haitian people in contravention of the OAS Charter, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and all other international laws, treaties and norms as the Inter-American Commission deems appropriate. The undermining, overthrow, and replacement of the democratically elected Haitian government has deprived Petitioners of their right to participate in representative government.
Neither the IGH nor the United States nor the Dominican Republic has taken effective steps since February 2004 to remedy the adverse consequences of the overthrow, and there are no adequate remedies available for Petitioners from local and national officials in these governments. Petitioners plead for relief before the Commission.
A. Background: the situation in Haiti.
In May 2000, the Fanmi Lavalas party won landslide victories in elections for the national legislature and local offices. The OAS and other international observers called the elections, in general, a success. The elections featured the largest number of candidates in Haiti’s history running for the largest number of offices (more than 7,500), and the largest number of voters ever. The OAS and others did criticize the method for calculating runoff percentages in seven Senate races.
In November 2000, Jean-Bertrand Aristide of the Fanmi Lavalas party was elected President of Haiti. Although some political parties boycotted the November elections, the turnout exceeded 50 percent of registered voters, and President Aristide won more than 90 percent of the votes cast. The November election results were widely recognized by the world community. Further, observers from the International Organization of Independent Observers, a private volunteer organization that observed the November 2000 elections, reported that they found that the elections were free and fair and that the official figures for participation were consistent with their observations. President Aristide was sworn into office on February 7, 2001, for a five-year term that, according to the Constitution, was to end on February 7, 2006. He was recognized as the duly elected President by the international community, without exception.
After he took office in 2001, President Aristide made repeated concessions to Haiti’s political opposition and members of the international community to resolve concerns about the May 2000 elections. Six Senators from President Aristide’s Lavalas party and one independent Senator resigned and agreed to new elections. President Aristide and his party agreed to early elections and even agreed to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition as proposed by the CARICOM countries. But Haiti’s opposition systematically refused to compromise or to set the electoral dispute before the Haitian voters. Instead, the opposition insisted that President Aristide immediately resign his office without completing his constitutional term – and that the opposition be invited to form a “transition” government. These extreme, unconstitutional demands doomed the negotiations.
Nevertheless, powerful members of the international community, including the United States, contributed to support the intransigent opposition and punish Haiti’s elected government. The major anti-government organization, the Group of 184, was led by Andre Apaid Jr., a U.S. citizen, and received generous assistance from the European Union.
Starting in the late 1990’s, former members of Haiti’s demobilized army and others began military training in the Dominican Republic. From 2001 to 2004, these groups conducted periodic raids across the border against targets in Haiti. Haitian authorities protested the use of the Dominican Republic’s territory for staging these attacks, but they were not stopped. Following attempted coup d’états on July 28 and December 17, 2001, Dominican authorities did make some arrests of Haitian rebels, including their top leader, Guy Philippe. Philippe was also arrested in May 2003, again at the request of Haitian officials. But each time, the Dominican Republic released the rebels without prosecuting them or preventing them from using Dominican territory for training or staging attacks.
In December 2002, the U.S. government sent 20,000 M-16 rifles to the Dominican Republic. According to several sources, including Noble Espejo, a former general in the Dominican Republic’s armed forces, and a senior United States military official cited by the Boston Globe, some of these guns arrived in the hands of the Haitian rebels.
In January 2004, political violence erupted between supporters of President Aristide and supporters of the opposition. On February 5, 2004, a rebel group calling itself the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front seized control of Gonaïves, Haiti’s fourth-largest city. Another rebel group, led by Louis Jodel Chamblain and Guy Philippe, crossed the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti on February 6, 2004. Chamblain admitted in a published interview to killing government supporters: “Our target was the chimères [Aristide’s police attachés]; I do not know how many died. The people took care of the rest. The battle began at one and ended at four in the afternoon. We took all the weapons, there were a lot of them. Now we were well armed and we would take Cap-Haïtien.” The rebels also destroyed government buildings and released all the prisoners from the jails in the towns they captured. On February 22, the rebels captured Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second-largest city. The ability of the Haitian National Police to respond to this and other violent attacks was severely handicapped by the U.S. embargo on the purchase of standard law enforcement equipment such as sidearms, police shields, and other crowd-control equipment.
On February 17, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell defended President Aristide as the “free and fairly elected President of Haiti.” He further stated that the United States “cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected President must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian people.” However, on February 26, Secretary Powell implied that Aristide should step down, and on February 29, the U.S. Administration released a statement condemning Aristide for orchestrating the violence in Port-Au-Prince and directing armed gangs to target civilians, humanitarian programs, and international organizations. This statement appeared to contradict the earlier statements of the Secretary of State, which recognized Aristide as the democratically elected President of Haiti and blamed the rebel groups for the violence gripping the country.
See generally Commission Investigation Finds U.S. and Dominican Republic Backed Haitian “Rebels,” Haiti Progres, Mar. 31, 2004, available at http://www.haitiprogres.com/2004/sm040331/eng03-31.html. The Haiti Commission of Inquiry, an organization formed in 1991 on the initiative of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, concluded in a set of preliminary findings in March 2004 that the governments of the U.S. and the Dominican Republic armed and trained at least dozens of Haitians in the Dominican Republic to overthrow the democratically elected government of Haiti.
Powell, supra note 1; see also Colin Powell, Secretary of State, Remarks After Meeting With Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy (Feb. 26, 2004), available at http://www.state.gov/secretary/former/powell/remarks/29927.htm.
The same day, Aristide was forced onto a U.S. Government plane and taken against his will to the Central African Republic. The U.S. Government claims that President Aristide signed a letter of resignation before departing, but Aristide maintains that the letter he signed was not a letter of resignation. The Haitian Creole expert hired by the U.S. State Department to translate the letter, Professor Bryant Freeman, reported that the letter was not a resignation. Regardless of the interpretation of the letter’s content, it cannot be a voluntary resignation, because U.S. Government officials forced President Aristide to sign the letter under threat.
The U.S. government also claimed that it took President Aristide to the Central African Republic because South Africa had refused him asylum. The South African government denied this report, saying that it had not even received a request for asylum.
In the wake of Aristide’s departure, the Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM) issued a critical statement: “[T]he removal of President Aristide in these circumstances sets a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere.” The Africa Union Commission declared that it “expresses the view that the unconstitutional way by which President Aristide was removed set a dangerous precedent for a duly elected person and wishes that no action be taken to legitimize the rebel forces” in Haiti. The CARICOM Heads of State also called for an investigation into the forced departure of President Aristide, under United Nations auspices.
Haitian Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was sworn in as Haiti’s new President, and a three-member commission was formed in order to start the process of forming a new government. This commission selected a Council of Wisemen (Conseil des Sages), which in turn appointed a transitional government in March 2004 with Gérard Latortue, a resident of Boca Raton, Florida, as its Prime Minister.
The investiture of both the interim President and Prime Minister violated Haiti’s Constitution. The Constitution’s Article 149 allows the Chief Justice to fulfill a Presidential vacancy. But as President Aristide did not resign and was prevented from fulfilling his presidential duties only by the use of force by the IGH and the intervention by the United States, there was no vacancy. Even if there had been a presidential vacancy, the establishment of the new government violated several other constitutional provisions. First, the Constitution requires the Provisional President to be sworn in by the legislature, but not a single elected official was involved in the Boniface investiture. Second, the same article requires the organization of new presidential elections within 90 days of the vacancy; this would have required new elections by June 1, 2004. More than 20 months later, these elections have still not been held.
Interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue was constitutionally ineligible for the office and was appointed through an illegal process. The Constitution requires a Prime Minister to have lived in Haiti for the five years preceding his nomination, but Mr. Latortue resided for those five years in Florida, in the United States. The Constitution requires that the Prime Minister be nominated by the President, and confirmed by Parliament, but Mr. Latortue was nominated by an invented structure, the Counsel of the Wise, and was not confirmed by any elected officials.
Since the formation of the transitional government, the overall situation in Haiti has been characterized by lawlessness in many areas, widespread violence, and systematic violations of the human rights of government opponents. Despite the presence of a U.N. force, many armed groups remain active throughout Haiti. Paramilitary groups led by former soldiers operate with impunity in many areas.
Constitutional rule has completely broken down under the IGH. The Prime Minister was selected in an unconstitutional manner, the IGH dismissed the remaining members of Parliament, and, on December 9, 2005, the Executive illegally fired five judges of the Cour de Cassation or Supreme Court.
B. Rebel leaders who circulate freely and have exercised de facto control over areas of Haiti are convicted human rights violators.
According to both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, several leaders of the rebellion, who have exercised de facto control over much of the country, are convicted human rights violators, many of whom escaped from prison in February 2004. Further, the interim prime minister of the transitional government, Gérard Latortue, has shown little inclination toward prosecuting the rebels for human rights abuses – in March 2004, Latortue referred to the rebels as “freedom fighters” while speaking at a rally in Gonaïves.
One of the leaders of the insurgency, Guy Philippe, is a former police chief in Cap-Haïtien and Delmas whom the U.S. Embassy has implicated in drug smuggling. Philippe fled Haiti in October 2000 after the elected government discovered that he and other police officers were plotting a coup d’état. His paramilitary force led a series of several deadly attacks on Haiti’s constitutional government, including an attack on the Haitian Police Academy in July 2001 and an attempted coup in December 2001, in which Philippe’s men briefly controlled the National Palace.
After his forces took over the city of Cap-Haïtien in February 2004, Philippe bragged to the press about going from house to house in order to find government supporters and execute them. Although the transitional government has not given him official powers, it has allowed Philippe to exercise de facto control over parts of the country. Philippe is a candidate for President in Haiti’s elections currently scheduled for February 2006.
Another insurgent leader, Louis Jodel Chamblain, a former sergeant in the Haitian army, was the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress (FRAPH), a paramilitary group formed during the 1991-1994 military regime that was responsible for numerous attacks against democracy supporters. Although Chamblain went into exile in the Dominican Republic to avoid prosecution in late 1994, he was among seven people convicted in absentia in 1995 for the extrajudicial execution of Antoine Izmery, a businessman and Aristide supporter. In November 2000, he was again convicted in absentia for the 1994 massacre of pro-democracy activists in the neighborhood of Raboteau.
On April 22, 2004, facing international pressure, Chamblain turned himself in to the police and sought a new trial (as all in absentia convicts have the right to do in Haiti). Minister of Justice Bernard Gousse declared that Chamblain “had nothing to hide” and later speculated that he would pardon Chamblain if he were convicted. On August 16, 2004, the transitional government held a new trial for Chamblain on the Izmery assassination case. The prosecutor made almost no effort to prosecute – not a single witness testified, and no new evidence was presented – and Chamblain was acquitted. Amnesty International described this trial as a “mockery.” In July 2005, Chamblain was released from prison. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the release “tarnishe[s] the credibility of the justice system.”
Between them, the insurgency and then the transitional government have released hundreds of other prisoners, many convicted of human rights violations, including every person in prison who had been convicted in the Raboteau Massacre trial or the assassination of Antoine Izmery.
C. U.S. Government actions contributed, directly and indirectly, to the unlawful removal of Haiti’s elected president.
The U.S. government contributed to the unlawful removal of Haiti’s elected President by: 1) leading a development-assistance embargo against Haiti’s elected government; 2) financially and militarily supporting groups engaged in a systematic effort to undermine the democratic government; 3) failing to come to Haiti’s aid despite a request to do so; and 4) kidnapping President Aristide and forcing him out of the country.
In response to allegations of irregularities with Haiti’s May 2000 elections, the United States imposed a development-assistance embargo on Haiti that included withholding almost all U.S. bilateral assistance to the Haitian government and blocking assistance from other organizations, including international financial institutions. Further, the United States directed the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to block four loans to Haiti that had already been approved for health, education, drinking water, and road improvement. Blocking already-approved loans violated the IADB’s internal regulations, and using the bank for leverage in a political dispute contravened the IADB’s charter. The United States did not lift these sanctions after the government of Haiti remedied the election problems through the resignation of the seven Senators whose election was contested.
Statement on Haiti Issued by the Fifteenth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, 25-26 Mar. 2004, available at http://www.caricom.org/jsp/archives/15inthgc-haitistatement.htm.
See Press Release, Amnesty International, Haiti: Convicted Human Rights Violators Must Not be Allowed Power, available at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR360142004?open&of=ENG-HTI; Human Rights Watch, Haiti: Recycled Soldiers and Paramilitaries on the March, available at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/02/27/haiti7677.htm.
The OAS Special Mission in Haiti investigated the 2001 attacks and concluded that they were not an attempted coup d’état, because the attackers took the Presidential Palace when President Aristide was known to be elsewhere. See OAS, Report of Commission of Inquiry Into the Events of December 17, 2001 in Haiti, Conclusion A6, 31 (“the objective of the attack on the National Palace does not correspond with the objective of producing a coup d’état”). The only proffered support for this conclusion is the finding that “it is widely known” that the President is away from the National Palace on Sunday nights, and that the attacks did not target “certain strategic targets” that are “typical” in coup attempts. Id. at 27. This conclusion ignores the fact that the successful September 1991 coup d’état against President Aristide started when the President was away from the National Palace at his private residence. In both cases, the putchists took advantage of the fact that the President’s best security was away with him to invade the Palace and force the constitutional authorities to dislodge them from a position of strength. The Commission’s conclusion was further undermined when the leaders of the 2001 attacks launched an invasion of Haiti in February 2004. Id.
Press Release, Amnesty International, Haiti: Chamblain and Joanis Overnight Trials Are an Insult to Justice, Aug. 16, 2004, available at http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR360532004?open&of=ENG-HTI.
Paul Farmer, Who Removed Aristide?, London Review of Books, Apr. 15 2004, available at http://lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/farm01_.html. Today, Haiti owes foreign governments and international lending institutions some $1.134 billion. “In July 2003, Haiti sent more than 90 percent of its foreign reserves to Washington [to finance this debt].” Id.