THREE YEARS OF DEFENDING HUMAN RIGHTS




The OAS/UN International Civilian Mission in Haiti, known as MICIVIH (its French acronym), was established in February 1993 at the request of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically-elected president. The acceptance of the mission by the de facto military authorities in Haiti was a step forward in the international community's efforts to resolve the crisis in Haiti, which erupted with the overthrow of President Aristide during a bloody coup d'état on 30 September 1991. The mission is unique insofar as it is the first joint mission of the UN and a regional organization (the OAS); and in its being created before a political settlement of the crisis had been achieved.

MICIVIH human rights observers were rapidly deployed throughout Haiti from February 1993 in all its nine administrative departments. The initial impact of this deployment did serve to curb human rights abuses in some regions, as well as providing support to victims and the population at large. However, following the signing of the Governor's Island Agreement in July 1993 - which provided for the return of President Aristide - the human rights situation deteriorated. Progress in implementing a political solution, and measures to protect human rights, were grossly undermined by the Haitian military. Leaders and members of pro-Aristide popular organizations were targeted by the Haitian Armed Forces (FADH) and by the newly created paramilitary group the Front révolutionnaire pour l'avancement et le progrès d'Haiti (FRAPH).

This disquieting trend culminated in the September 1993 assassination of a prominent Aristide supporter, Antoine Izmery, and the October execution of Justice Minister Guy Malary. It became increasingly clear that the military would not respect their commitment to allow President Aristide to return. Political tensions increased and the Governor's Island Agreement began to unravel. De facto military control of the country, and repression of Aristide supporters, resulted in the widespread violation of basic human rights. In this context of military violence, and a climate of political tension, the security of MICIVIH observers became a matter of concern and the mission was evacuated to the Dominican Republic in mid-October.

In January 1994 the UN and OAS returned a first group of about 30 observers to Haiti. The observers found the situation to be worse than at any time during the Mission's presence in 1993. Extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearance, torture and arbitrary arrest had increased, and a new phenomenon - that of rape as an instrument of political repression - had emerged. Many cases of such violations were documented by MICIVIH between January and July 1994. The perpetrators included members of the Haitian Armed Forces (FADH), the police, their civilian auxiliaries and members of FRAPH.

The limited number of observers, and the restrictions placed upon their activities, impeded the Mission's capacity to monitor human rights abuses. Nevertheless, the systematic documentation of violations, and the publication of reports of abuse, did serve to alert the international community to the severity of the human rights crisis in Haiti, thus creating pressure for the curtailment of military, police and paramilitary activity. The military response was unambiguous. The FADH withdrew recognition of the Mission's presence in Haiti; and in July MICIVIH observers were given 48 hours to leave the country, after the de facto authorities claimed the Mission's mandate had expired and its presence was "a threat to national security".



Human rights after the return of President Aristide

MICIVIH activities in Haiti resumed on 26 October 1994, some two weeks after the return of President Aristide, with the reopening of its headquarters and an office in Port-au-Prince. Eleven further offices were subsequently opened in the nine departments of Haiti and, by September 1995, some 193 observers were monitoring human rights throughout the country.

Since the restoration of the democratically elected government, and the return of President Aristide on 12 October 1994, the human rights situation has improved substantially. MICIVIH has observed that the freedoms of expression, association and assembly are being exercised by different sectors of the society, including by those who are strongly critical of President Aristide and the government. The systematic violation of human rights by agents of the state - as had occurred under the de facto government - has come to an end. Nevertheless, the extreme weakness of institutions serving to guarantee the civil and political rights of the civilian population - most notably a well-trained police force and an effective judicial system - are serious impediments to the actual and future protection of human rights.



Monitoring activities - the work of MICIVIH observers

During the current period MICIVIH has continued to give priority to the monitoring and promotion of respect for human rights. Its observers receive information from numerous sources, direct and indirect. These include the national press, non-governmental and church organizations and individual members of the public. Information is also regularly received from the military and police components of the UN mission in Haiti. All reports of possible human rights abuse are thoroughly investigated, a task which frequently involves two to three-day trips into remote regions of the countryside. Such investigations are fully documented and provide the basis for detailed monthly reports which are submitted to the UN's Special Representative in Haiti and to the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States. The Mission also issues regular public statements, which provide MICIVIH's assessment of human rights questions, such as the progress of penal and judicial reforms, human rights during the electoral process and other matters affecting human rights protection in Haiti.







Institution-building - MICIVIH's contribution

The work of the Mission has increasingly included a focus upon the strengthening of democratic and judicial institutions and the process and implementation of penal reform. To this end it has worked in collaboration with the Haitian Government and international agencies such as the UN Development Program (UNDP).

MICIVIH observers have a unique experience of the problems afflicting the justice system at the local level. The mission has conducted in-depth analysis of such problems and has submitted to the government a number of recommendations for judicial reform. MICIVIH legal experts are currently assisting in the development of a curriculum for the newly-created Ecole National de la Magistrature; and working with members of the UNDP in the design of a joint training course for public prosecutors.

Members of the mission have also worked with the UN Crime Prevention Criminal Justice Branch and UNDP to develop and implement a project of penal reform which includes the creation of a prison registration system, the establishment of a penal administration system, the training of prison guards, the renovation of certain detention centers and the improvement of conditions of detention.

The Mission actively monitors the work of the newly-created Haitian National Police. MICIVIH legal experts are currently acting as consultants in the development of human rights training programs for the new police force, including training on international standards for the use of force.



MICIVIH and the Commission Nationale de Vérité et Justice

The Commission, a governmental body created by presidential decree in December 1994, and composed of national and international members, is empowered to "establish the truth about the most serious human rights violations committed between 29 September 1991 and 15 October 1994 inside and outside the country". MICIVIH has committed itself to providing technical support to the Commission throughout its period of operation. During the initial stages of the Commission's life, MICIVIH provided advice on working methods, budgetary matters, technical consultants and in the elaboration of a program of work. Assistance has also included technical expertise in the field of forensic anthropology.

The most important element of MICIVIH support to the Commission concerns the transmission of documentary evidence of cases of human rights violations committed between September 1991 and October 1994. By early September 1995 the Commission had requested dossiers relating to many cases of grave human rights violations and further requests are expected. No such dossier can be submitted to the Commission without the authorization of the victim or other source of the reported violation. In August and September MICIVIH observers visited a number of victims within the Port-au-Prince region in order to obtain this permission. Protection of the confidentiality of testimony provided by victims and witnesses has also required the preparation of special dossiers for presentation to the Commission.



MICIVIH and the elections

In November 1994 the OAS and the UN agreed that MICIVIH's responsibilities during the 1995 congressional and local government elections would include a number of activities broadly defined under the rubric of peace promotion. These included: facilitating freedom of expression and assembly; monitoring acts of intimidation and of violence during the electoral campaign; and monitoring the polling and counting process.

Prior to the elections MICIVIH observers also monitored the technical aspects of candidate and voter registration, visiting registration offices and establishing contact with election officials at various levels. Technical monitoring of the electoral process was facilitated by the arrival of a small group of OAS and MICIVIH electoral teams throughout the electoral period provided the basis for reports submitted, by the OAS Electoral Observation Mission, to the official Conseil Electoral Provisoire.

MICIVIH made public its own assessment of the human rights aspects of the pre-electoral process in a press release in early May 1995. It stated that while the registration process was initially disrupted by protests and some acts of intimidation, there were few serious incidents of violence. A further press statement was issued on 14 July following the first round of elections on 25 June. It stated that despite sporadic violence, the elections were relatively free of political violence and there had been few incidents nationwide which resulted in physical injury. The main problems involved threats and intimidation, with some polling stations being ransacked or burned along with ballot papers. Many election officials reported fearing for their safety on polling day. However, threats by rejected candidates to disrupt the elections were not in the main carried out and some candidates called upon their supporters to respect the integrity of the electoral process.



The work of the Medical Unit

Between 1993 and 1994 MICIVIH's medical Unit was the only structure in Haiti working to ensure that the victims of human rights violations received medical attention for problems - whether physical or psychological - associated with the abuses they had suffered. This objective was in practice achieved through the creation of a national network of Haitian medical practitioners willing to provide care to those who had suffered human rights violations. The Unit also produced official documents certifying that the medical condition of individuals was consistent with their testimony of human rights abuse.

Since the Mission's return to Haiti in October 1994, the MICIVIH Medical Unit has worked in collaboration with doctors from the French non-governmental organization, Médecins du Monde to provide care and reconstructive surgery to victims of human rights violations. The Unit continues to compile detailed documentation on the medical consequences of such violations for victims and their families. During mid-1995 the Unit has given priority to the preparation of medical evidence for submission to the Commission Nationale de Vérité et Justice.

The Unit is also undertaking research on the psychological effects on individuals and their families of the repression perpetrated during the de facto regime. An analytical assessment of the research material will be completed and published before February 1996. Members of the Medical Unit are working with local health professionals and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International towards the creation of a Haitian Community Clinic for Victims of Trauma, through a non-profit organization called M'ap viv (I'm alive). Training for the first 50 community therapists is scheduled to start in September.



Civic Education

MICIVIH has worked closely with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Port-au-Prince and in the provinces to promote knowledge and awareness of international and domestic human rights law. MICIVIH observers conduct human rights workshops for NGOs and other interested organizations, as well as attending meetings organized by popular and local organizations at which human rights issues are discussed. The Mission provides posters and other materials, as requested, to those organizing civic education seminars. The mission has also participated in human rights education programs organized by UN agencies and international NGO's, such as UNICEF and the Martin Luther King Foundation.



The future of MICIVIH

During the forthcoming months, MICIVIH will continue to monitor respect for human rights in all regions of the country and to document its findings. The Mission will aim to contribute as fully as possible to the reinforcement of democratic institutions and in particular will monitor the progress and implementation of judicial and penal reform. Technical assistance in both spheres will be provided whenever possible. Legal experts within the Mission will provide training for the newly-formed Haitian National Police on codes of conduct and human rights protection.

MICIVIH will continue to publish statements setting forth its assessment of political and human rights questions, as part of its commitment to disseminating accurate information and stimulating public debate about democracy and human rights in Haiti. It will in addition produce more detailed reports on a number of phenomena which bear directly on civil and political rights and the safety and security of the civilian population. MICIVIH will continue to develop programs of human rights education and to respond to requests for support by groups and individuals engaged in civic education.

MICIVIH's current mandate was renewed on 12 July 1995 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, after a written request was submitted by President Aristide to the UN Secretary-General. The mandate expires on 7 February 1996. The 50th Session of the UN General Assembly will consider the possibility of a further extension of MICIVIH's mandate. Such an extension would permit a continuing contribution to institution building and the strengthening of mechanisms for the long-term protection of human rights in Haiti, the cornerstones of an enduring democracy.





September 1995