Myrtha D�sulm�, Contributor
Published the October 22, 2006
Last month, an alarming new report on human rights abuses in Haiti under the interim Government, by two social work scholars, Athena Kolbe and Dr. Royce Hutson of Wayne State University, was published in the British medical journal The Lancet. The report studied eight types of human rights violations: property crimes, arrests and prolonged illegal detentions, physical assaults, sexual assaults, murders including extrajudicial killings and politically motivated executions, death threats, and threats of sexual or physical violence.
Households numbering 1,260 were interviewed during the survey period, accounting for 5,720 residents. To estimate the total number of victims in the region, the researchers applied crude rates to the estimated population of the greater Port-au-Prince area in 2003 (2,121,000). From 219 murders and 1,698 sexual assaults, which were reported to them during the survey, they extrapolated that 8,000 people had been murdered and 35,000 women and girls had been raped in Port-au-Prince alone, during the 22-month period. The numbers seem shockingly high, and somewhat exaggerated, but the researchers nevertheless maintain that the extrapolation formula applied to this random sampling method is standard.
These human rights abuses were allegedly perpetrated by the police, members of the disbanded Haitian army, organised anti-Lavalas paramilitary groups, partisans of Lavalas, criminals, unidentified masked armed men, foreign soldiers, and others (including neighbours, friends, and family members).
Under the pretext of encouraging the development of democracy in Haiti, the U.S. has imposed several disastrous embargoes, which have crippled its fragile economy and traumatised its people. Unemployment has soared. Urban violence has spiralled.
Economic stagnation fosters the struggle for scarce benefits, which can be exploited by demagogues, the politically ambitious, and vested interests, foreign and local, intent on monopolising the means of production, the sources of wealth, and of economic and political power.
Extreme poverty breeds illiteracy and miserable governance, which in turn intensifies hunger and instability. Expectations from rationalist theories of crime, civil war and social unrest, are that violence will rise as income per capita, education, and economic growth decline. This is due either to the declining opportunity cost of violence, (the less people have to lose, the more likely they are to create mayhem), or to the decline in state capacity, which are two competing causal mechanisms. If the state is weak and cannot effectively police its territory, a greater supply of agitators will become available to the rabble rousers. Education reduces the available supply of potential rebels. Unemployment increases it.
Violent conflict will occur when it is expected to be more profitable than peace, and there is a difficulty in structuring a credible agreement, which avoids war or other forms of conflict. Theories of relative deprivation expect violence to rise as a result of higher inequality. Persistent inequality leads to anger and despair, which reinforces the demand for political change.
The only lasting solution for Haiti is the same as for every other destabilised country – stimulation of its economy and wealth creation. A sound framework which combines key public investments – roads, power, public health and safe water, with the creation of long-term economic options, such as the improvement of access to schools, and the development of sustainable agriculture. Great gains need to be achieved in education, farming, health and income levels.
Preval has his work cut out for him. Last month, Sorel Fran�ois, president of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the House of Deputies, declared that more than U.S. $6 million, not counting luxury vehicles, were misappropriated by the Foreign Affairs Ministry over the two-year administration of interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.
Preval has also inherited a disastrous human rights situation, which demands a serious and urgent response. He has so far been successful in liberating the more high profile political prisoners, but there are many more he needs to deal with. He does not yet control the judiciary, however, because in December, 2005, P.M. Latortue unconstitutionally replaced half of the Supreme Court judges, after the court ruled against him in the controversial case of candidates with double nationalities, who were barred from participating in the presidential elections. Replacements were unilaterally selected by the executive, and those judges remain on the bench, resisting the liberation of political prisoners.
Haitians see MINUSTAH, the two-year-old U.N. “stabilisation” force, as occupiers, or worse, “tourists with guns”, who are being paid to kill them. DDR (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration), was the first mandate of the U.N. peace-keeping force, but they have failed miserably at it. Unless MINUSTAH can live up to its original mandate of stabilisation, the US$25 million per month, which it is costing, would be better utilised in assisting starving and dislocated Haitians, who cannot earn a living in the prevailing chaos. With the war of attrition, which is being waged against the Haitian people since the last aid embargo, dating from 2000, US$25 million per month could go a long way towards providing food, water, and basic necessities, rebuilding infrastructure, sewage systems and utilities, providing social services such as health care, garbage collection, sanitation, education, the list is endless. It is precisely the fact that the people are forced to live in such miserable conditions, which undermine their human dignity, which is exacerbating the problem.
No one knows for sure how many weapons are out there. The general estimate is 30,000. Last month, President Preval warned gangs based in the sprawling slums of Port-au-Prince to disarm or face death. Up to 1,000 rank-and-file gang members, who voluntarily lay down arms and rejoin society, will be eligible for the programme, the biggest disarmament effort of the U.N. peace-keeping mission yet.
U.N. envoy, Edmond Mulet, said that gang members participating in the programme will receive ID cards entitling them to money, medical assistance, food for their families and training for jobs. The initiative targets only rank-and-file gang members. Top gang leaders in the capital’s volatile Cite Soleil slum have indicated a willingness to disarm, and the decision to leave them out sets up a potential showdown with the Government.
What Haiti needs is assistance in building up institutions for local governance and democracy. It is imperative that Haiti change its political culture, and adhere to CARICOM’s Charter of Civil Society. Haiti could take a page out of the British Caribbean’s political traditions, such as the two-party Westminster system, of which her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition forms an integral part. The main political problem in Haiti is that the Opposition is the enemy. When one starts out with that premise, it is quite difficult to manoeuvre a conflictive situation to the point where all parties can sit around a table and negotiate, or even agree to disagree, accept the opponent’s right to his opinion, and coexist amicably.
Higher incomes and educational attainment reduce the risk of political violence by encouraging political participation, and channelling conflict through institutional pathways rather than violence. The U.N., the OAS, and the international community should be offering economic assistance for reconstruction, and training in negotiation skills for conflict resolution, in order to achieve a new social contract leading to national reconciliation. Erasing Haiti’s debt, restoring constitutional rule, ending arbitrary embargoes and sinking significant resources into public health, public education and public infrastructure, would ultimately be central to addressing, and indeed, solving Haiti’s social problems.
Myrtha D�sulm� is the President of the Haiti-Jamaica Society.