Torture, Murder and Complicity
Does the Canadian-promoted "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine include
murder rape, and threats of violence?
That's the question we should be asking Canadian officials after a study in
the prestigious Lancet medical journal released at the end of August revealed
there were 8,000 murders, 35,000 rapes and thousands of incidents of armed threats
in the 22 months after the overthrow of the elected government in Haiti.
In September 2000, Canada launched the International Commission on Intervention
and State Sovereignty. The commission's final report, The Responsibility to
Protect, was presented to the UN in December 2001 and at the 2005 World Summit,
Canada advocated that world leaders endorse the new doctrine. It asserts that
where gross human rights abuses are occurring, it is the duty of the international
community to intervene, over and above considerations of state sovereignty.
In January 2003, the Canadian government organized the "Ottawa Initiative"
where U.S., Canadian and French government officials who met at Meech Lake decided
that Haiti's elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide should be removed from
office. The intervention was justified, they reasoned, by the Responsibility
to Protect doctrine.
In due course, Aristide was forced from office. And Canada's intervention in
Haiti has exacerbated, rather than improved, Haiti's human rights situation.
Confirming numerous prior human rights investigations, the Lancet study estimates
that 8,000 people in Port-au-Prince were killed in the 22 months after the toppling
of Aristide's government. The Lancet study gives an idea of the scale of the
persecution of those close to Aristide's Lavalas movement.
Of the estimated 8,000 people murdered--12 people a day--in the greater Port-au-Prince
area, nearly half (47.7%) were killed by governmental or anti-Aristide forces.
21.7% of the killings were attributed to members of the Haitian National Police
(HNP), 13.0% to demobilized soldiers (many of whom participated in the coup)
and 13.0% to anti-Aristide gangs (none were attributed to Aristide supporters).
Canada commands the 1,600-member United Nations police contingent mandated
to train, assist and oversee the Haitian National Police. Yet while Canadian
police have been supporting them, the Haitian police have been attacking peaceful
demonstrations and carrying out massacres, often with the help of anti-Aristide
gangs. While UN police have announced investigations in a few particularly egregious
cases, not one report from such investigations has ever been released.
The Lancet study also uncovered some evidence that Canadian forces in Haiti
were more than mere silent accomplices. Athena Kolbe, co-author of the study,
recounts an interview with one family in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince:
"Canadian troops came to their house, and they said they were looking
for (pro-Aristide) Lavalas chimeres, and threatened to kill the head of household,
who was the father, if he didn't name names of people in their neighbourhood
who were Lavalas chimeres or Lavalas supporters."
Canada took command of "reforming" Haiti's judicial system, yet by
all accounts huge numbers of political prisoners, including the former prime
minister, languished in prolonged and arbitrary detention. The Lancet found
an huge number of unconstitutional detentions.
The study also found a "shocking" level of sexual violence committed
since the coup, with an estimated 35,000 women raped in Port-au- Prince, more
than half of the victims under eighteen. In a harrowing account the co-author,
Athena Kolbe, discussed interviewing a mother who had been raped with a metal
bar, which destroyed her cervix. Gravely ill, the woman was transported by Kolbe's
crew to the general hospital, where they offered to pay for medical costs. On
discovering that a uniformed police officer was implicated, the hospital refused
medical treatment. The victim eventually received medical attention at another
facility, but ultimately succumbing to her injuries. Kolbe then paid for relocation
of the traumatized family. (This necessitated not including the rape in the
Lancet survey data.)
Throughout the period investigated by the researchers from Wayne State University
in Michigan Canada was heavily involved in Haitian affairs. After withholding
aid to Aristide's elected government, Canada gave nearly $200 million to the
imposed Gerard Latortue regime. Nearly five hundred Canadian troops with six
CH-146 Griffon helicopters were on the ground until August of 2004. And the
imposed Prime Minister was feted in Ottawa on a number of occasions.
On April 13, 2006, in Washington, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice
praised "Canada's very important role in Haiti."
We suspect that anyone who has read the Lancet study does not share her praise.
Nik Barry-Shaw is a member of Haiti Action Montreal
Yves Engler is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti:
Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing:
From Rink Rat to Student Radical.
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