A shocking new report in the British medical journal the Lancet on
human rights abuses in Haiti finds that 8,000 people were murdered and 35,000
women and girls raped during the U.S.-backed coup regime that followed Jean
Bertrand Aristide. Those responsible included Haitian police, United Nations
peacekeepers and anti-Lavalas gangs. We speak with the co-authors of the report.
[includes rush transcript]
A shocking new report published in the British medical journal The Lancet has
found widespread and systematic human rights abuses in Haiti following the ouster
of democratically-elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
New figures reveal that during the 22-month period of the U.S.-backed Interim
Government, 8,000 people were murdered in the greater Port-au Prince area alone.
35,000 women and girls were raped or sexually assaulted, more than half of the
victims were children. Kidnappings, extrajudicial detentions, physical assaults,
death threats, and threats of sexual violence were also common.
Those responsible for the human rights abuses include criminals, the police,
United Nations peacekeepers and anti-Lavalas gangs.
The findings are based on a new report published in the British medical journal
the Lancet. The study is based on an extensive survey of households in the Port-au-Prince
Athena Kolbe, master's level social worker with the Wayne
State University school of social work in Detroit Michigan. In December 2005
she coordinated an extensive survey of households in the Port-au-Prince area
to determine rates of human rights abuse under the interim Haitian government.
Dr. Royce Hutson, assistant professor of social work at
Wayne State University. He co-authored the Lancet study on human rights abuses
for summary of articles on Haiti by journalist Allan Nairn
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AMY GOODMAN: The findings are based on a new report published
in the British medical journal, The Lancet. The study is based on an extensive
survey of households in the Port-au-Prince area of Haiti. Athena Kolbe is one
of the authors of the report. She’s a Master’s-level social worker
with the Wayne State University School of Social Work in Detroit, Michigan.
She joins us from a studio in San Francisco. We're also joined by Dr. Royce
Hutson, on the phone from Detroit, co-author of the report, assistant professor
of social work at Wayne State University. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Athena Kolbe, these are startling findings. 8,000 murdered. Over what time
period? And how do you know this?
ATHENA KOLBE: We started -- well, basically what we did is
we randomly selected households in the greater Port-au-Prince area, 1,260 households,
and then went and interviewed them about their experiences with human rights
violations beginning in February 29, 2004 with the departure of Aristide through
December of 2005, which is the one-month period, where we did the interviews.
So based on that, we found that 23 households out of the 1260 had members who
had been assassinated in that time period. And the figure of 8,000 is derived
from estimating that based on the population of the greater Port-au-Prince area.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, when you say “randomly selected,”
obviously in Haiti, one of the poorest -- the poorest country in the western
hemisphere, a lot of people don't have phones -- or even locating folks. Could
you explain your use of GPS to actually develop who would be the random households
ATHENA KOLBE: This was actually kind of a unique type of a
study, because this methodology hasn't really been used before in public health
and human rights studies. It was a used a little bit in another Lancet study
about Iraq just before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But what we did
is we randomly selected GPS locations, 1,500 of them, and then went and visited
each location, eliminated the ones that weren't actually households, the ones
that were, you know, the side of a mountain or the airport runway or whatever,
and then went and interviewed people at the remaining ones that were households.
And we had an over 90% response rate, which is extraordinarily high and really
indicates that even those that were legitimate sites, where we went and talked
to people, most people were willing to talk to us, indicating that they had
something to say and wanted their story to be told about their experiences with
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about who carried out these
ATHENA KOLBE: Yeah. We had -- the largest number of perpetrators
for most of the violations were criminals, indicating that there was high rates
of criminal activity. But also, we also had a number of assassinations that
were done by members of the Haitian National Police, as well as killings by
UN soldiers and killings by demobilized soldiers from the ex-Haitian army that
was disbanded by President Aristide in 1995.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the rapes and sexual assaults,
because you said that you had -- you identified actually 23 families that had
actually experienced assassinations or killings within their own families, and
in terms of the raw numbers on the actual rapes and assaults, and then how you
extrapolated those to this astounding number of 35,000.
ATHENA KOLBE: Dr. Hutson could actually talk a little bit
more about that, because he has the figures right in front of him. But I believe
that it was 93 families total out of the 1,260 that had sexual assault victims
in their household. And some of those had multiple victims within one household.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Royce Hutson, could you follow up on that?
DR. ROYCE HUTSON: Sure, absolutely. Yeah, actually, Athena,
it was 94, but very close. Yeah, so we took 94, and we essentially extrapolated
it to the greater Port-au-Prince area with the estimated number of females in
the greater Port-au-Prince area that we got from our own sample. Census data
wasn't really available with regards to what the average household size, what
percentage of the population is female. So we had to sort of construct those
figures for ourselves. And then we took those constructed figures and extrapolated
our findings to the greater Port-au-Prince area. And we got to 35,000, roughly,
female sexual assault victims.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break, and then we’re going
to come back to this discussion and also go to Haiti, some videotape that is
quite shocking of UN forces moving into the neighborhood around Cite Soleil
and opening fire. We're also going to talk with an attorney who has brought
a lawsuit against a man who now sits in a New York jail. He's sitting there
for mortgage fraud charges, but he's a leader of a paramilitary death squad,
Emmanuel Constant, and they have brought a lawsuit against him for sexual abuse
and rape of women in Haiti. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: On the phone with us, Athena Kolbe, social worker
with the Wayne State University School of Social Work in Detroit. We're also
joined on the telephone by Dr. Royce Hutson, assistant professor of social work
at Wayne State. Athena is in a San Francisco TV studio. Athena -- Juan, a question.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. I’d like to ask Dr. Hutson, these
findings are so startling that obviously a lot of people are going to question
them, because this is something that really has not been extensively reported
in the past. So I’d like to ask you, in your figures you claim that over
50% of the murders were committed by government forces or anti-Lavalas groups
and the bulk of the others by criminals, very few by Lavalas supporters themselves.
And also in the rapes, about a quarter of them were committed by either government
forces, police or anti-Lavalas groups. Now, obviously this is a peer-reviewed
study, appearing in the Lancet, but your defense of those who will say that
you're basically extrapolating from very small numbers of people that you actually
interviewed who were victims of these crimes?
DR. ROYCE HUTSON: Well, actually, I would argue that it was
not really that small of a number, though it was 1,260 households that really
represented 5,720 individuals. And in survey methodology, that's considered
a rather large number of people to be surveying. If you looked at our -- for
instance, if you looked at our confidence intervals, you'll find that for at
least a number of -- in extrapolated figures, I should explain, that those are
pretty tight figures, because our sample sizes are rather large.
With regards to who is committing these, we made a special point of, for instance,
not using interviewers that are associated with Lavalas or less political parties,
in the interest of trying to keep the study nonpartisan. I mean, of course,
there's a possibility that people would claim that someone did something to
them when they didn't. But we find that that, in fact, probably was not the
case, in that when we look at the figures, you know, it goes across the breadth
of various anti-Lavalas groups -- the demobilized army, the HNP -- which are
not exactly what I consider to be a sole entity. They are, in fact, separate
AMY GOODMAN: And just to explain, Lavalas being pro-Aristide
forces. Aristide removed in Haiti in 2004 in a U.S.-backed coup against him.
We're talking about this period after his removal.
DR. ROYCE HUTSON: That's correct. We didn't find any -- we
didn’t detect any Lavalas atrocities with regards to murder or sexual
assault. We did detect some physical assaults by Lavalas members and some threatening
behavior by Lavalas members. So they're not completely exonerated from any human
rights abuses. However, as the questioner noted, a vast majority of the atrocities
that weren't committed by criminals, but by others, were from groups affiliated
in some fashion with anti-Lavalas movements.
AMY GOODMAN: Athena Kolbe, who are the restaveks?
ATHENA KOLBE: The restaveks are unpaid domestic servants.
They are children, usually from the countryside, who come into the city, and
they work with Haitian households in exchange for room and board. And we found
that girls who were restaveks were particularly at risk for sexual assault,
more so than other children, although children in general were particularly
at risk, but also more so than even adult women.
And this really begs the question of, when you have so many restaveks who were
sexually assaulted -- and when we're talking about sexual assault, also I want
to clarify, we're not just talking about molestation or someone grabbing someone
sexually when they don't want it. We're talking about more than 90% of the sexual
assaults in our study involved penetration. And some of the them involved multiple
perpetrators, involved penetration with inanimate objects, like a piece of metal.
These were very brutal sexual assaults that we recorded. And when we're looking
at such high numbers of children being sexually assaulted by officers from the
Haitian National Police, and then particularly this vulnerable group of child
domestic servants, it really makes you wonder what exactly was going on under
the interim Haitian government in regards to the sexual assault of children
by police officers.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the international peace monitoring
force that is stationed there? Did you find any indication of violations, human
rights violations, by them?
ATHENA KOLBE: We certainly did. Although the rates were lower
than some people might have expected, we found that they had very high rates
of threatening behavior, of committing death threats, threats of sexual and
physical violence. And by threats, we mean not just pointing your gun at someone,
because when you're a peacekeeping soldier, you know, you carry a gun. If you
have to point it at people, then some people might interpret that as a threat.
We didn't count that as a threat. We counted threats as something verbal, a
verbal, you know, “Do this, or I’ll kill you,” where the person
really felt like they were legitimately threatened, like their life was really
at stake or the life of their family was really at stake. And they had actually
relatively high numbers of death threats and threats of sexual and physical
violence, which is perhaps indicative of a pattern of perhaps a lack of training,
or since it was so many troops from different countries, as well, who are involved
in this threatening behavior, that perhaps the United Nations forces are not
interacting with the Haitian populous in a really appropriate way.
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