By the Haiti Solidarity Network in Workers’ World
Some 250 people gathered at the southern campus of Florida International University (FIU) in Miami on March 11 to attend the third session of the Inter national Tribunal on Haiti, a people’s organization examining crimes committed connected with the rebellion and coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 and during its aftermath.
An 11-member jury on March 11 found “rebel” leaders Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain guilty of massacres carried out by paramilitary gunmen under their command on Haiti’s Central Plateau between 2002 and 2004.
Seven witnesses testified about the crimes against humanity committed by United Nations occupation troops, the Haitian National Police (PNH) and the Washington-backed “rebels” in the years before and after the coup.
Philippe was a former Haitian soldier and then a police chief, who fled Haiti to the Dominican Republic in November 2000 after he was discovered with other high-ranking police officers plotting a coup against President René Préval. Chamblain was the vice president of the FRAPH death squad following the first coup against Aristide (1991-1994).
The two became the most prominent leaders of the 200 ex-soldiers and Tonton Macoutes who waged war from the Dominican Republic against Haiti’s constitutional government from July 2001 to January 2004. Both are still free in Haiti.
Presiding Judge Ben Dupuy, assisted by Judges Lucie Tondreau and Lionel Jean-Baptiste, opened the session by explaining the court’s purpose: “The tribunal will examine current reports of killing, torture, illegal detention and other serious violations of international human rights, as well as the events leading up to the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in February 2004.”
Dupuy added: “The Tribunal’s second purpose is to develop a case file that will be referred to the prosecutor of the Inter national Criminal Court in The Hague.”
René Préval’s victory in presidential elections last month will not affect the court’s mission. “Even if Haiti does transition to an elected government, that will not end this Tribunal’s work,” Dupuy said. “The return of democracy to Haiti will require establishing the truth about the overthrow of democracy in Haiti and the crimes against humanity committed against the Haitian democracy movement over the last two years.”
In the third session, four more U.N. officials were added to the 22 previously indic ted: Jordanian Brig. General Mah moud Al-Husban, Brazilian Capt. Leonidas Carneiro, Chilean Gen. Eduardo Aldunate Herman, and Brazilian Gen. Carvalho de Sigueira. Investigating Judge Brian Concannon accepted the updated indictment and the prosecution team of Desiree Wayne and Kim Ives began to call their witnesses.
Lawyer Tom Griffin presented a summary of the Commission of Inquiry’s final report, which he wrote. The Commission, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, had visited Haiti for a week in October 2005 and interviewed over 50 witnesses and victims of coup-related violence.
Griffin also testified about the testimony the Commission received about Philippe’s crimes on the Central Plateau. His presentation was buttressed by a videotaped interview with, Cléonord Souverain, who described how Philippe’s “rebels” massacred five of his family members in their home in June 2002. Souverain was the Lavalas leader in Belladère.
Two other Commission members— trade unionist Dave Welsh and John Parker, director of the International Action Center’s West Coast office—also gave detailed and rousing reports about the testimony they had gathered from witnesses and victims of coup-related violence in Port-au-Prince’s Belair neighborhood.
Mario Joseph, Haiti’s foremost human rights defense lawyer, testified about the human rights situation in Haiti during the coup, and specifically about the role and responsibility of Philippe and Chamblain.
Dr. Evan Lyon, who works with Part ners in Health in Cange on the Central Plateau, also explained, how the paramilitaries commanded by Phillipe and Cham blain victimized and terrorized people both before and after the coup.
One of the most moving moments was when Agnès Mentor, a former officer of the Special Unit of the Presidential Guard (USGPN), testified about her polio-crippled nephew, whom she raised as her own child, currently held without charges in the National Penitentiary. Her voice broke and tears flowed as she told how the police had arrested him because they knew he was her adopted child.
Mentor, now exiled in Boston, also gave an eye-witness report of the Oct. 26, 2004 massacre in Port-au-Prince’s Fort National neighborhood during which masked policemen summarily executed 13 young people.
Finally, Benissoit Duclos, the former head of Haiti’s Taxi Driver Union and director of the government-run Conatra bus company, explained how the large “Dignité” bus fleet was destroyed, mortally wounding Haiti’s economy. He testified that the U.S. government-backed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) had infiltrated the union movement.
Despite numerous difficulties, the work of the Tribunal’s third session succeeded, due in large measure to the work and support of three Miami-based groups: the community organization Veye Yo, the support group Haiti Solidarity, and the FIU-based Bolivarian Youth, who hosted the event.
Based on a report published