By Marina Jimenez, Friday’s Globe and Mail
Feb 9, 2007
The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, has cleared the author of a study on Haiti of systemic bias, and reaffirmed the findings of her report.
Athena Kolbe’s report concluded that widespread human-rights violations in Haiti have occurred, despite the presence of a Canadian-led United Nations police force and Brazilian-led peacekeeping mission.
The Lancet investigation was launched after a British-based Haiti Support Group complained she wasn’t objective.
Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, noted that Ms. Kolbe had an “undeclared conflict of interest” for failing to disclose to its readers that she had worked as a volunteer in 1995 at an orphanage founded by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and as a journalist under the name of Lyn Duff.
However, Mr. Horton said there was no evidence of bias in the study’s findings, and that much of the debate in this case was “aimed at exploiting historical divisions” in Haiti.
“That process has obscured the real issue — the welfare of civilians in Haiti — to whom attention should now turn,” he said.
Ms. Kolbe’s study, co-authored with Royce Hutson, an assistant professor at Detroit’s Wayne State University, found that 8,000 Haitians have been slain and 35,000 women and girls raped since the ousting of Mr. Aristide in early 2004. The perpetrators were Haiti’s National Police, members of the disbanded army, common criminals, armed anti-Lavalas (Mr. Aristide’s political party) groups and in some cases, members of the UN peacekeeping mission. A small number were Lavalas.
Ms. Kolbe said that according to local Haitians, Canadian peacekeepers made death threats against them during house raids, and sexual advances against women while they were drunk and off-duty.
“Now that The Lancet study has reaffirmed our findings, I hope that groups criticized for human-rights violations will be investigated and held accountable,” said Ms. Kolbe, who is working on her master’s degree at Wayne State’s school of social work.
In one alleged incident, a resident of Delmas, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, said Canadian troops raided his house and threatened to kill him if he didn’t give them names of Aristide supporters.
In another alleged incident, a woman said she was grabbed by a drunk, off-duty Canadian soldier while out with friends near a base in the capital. She claims he threatened her with sexual attack.
The Canadian military briefly investigated the allegations, but couldn’t substantiate them because respondents were anonymous.
Yves Engler, with Haiti Action Montreal, a solidarity group, said The Lancet’s reaffirmation of the study’s findings underscore the massive human-rights violations that occurred after Mr. Aristide left office.
“This study reaffirms the indictment of Canada’s foreign policy in Haiti. Canada helped to overthrow the government and now the human-rights situation has worsened,” he said.
Mr. Aristide was ousted on Feb. 29, 2004, after a rebellion of thugs and ex-soldiers forced him out. He argues the United States and France forced him into exile.