Massacre of Aristide supporters brings back memories of Papa Doc
THE bodies had been whisked away, but a pool of dried blood covering a dirt-floored dead end of a twisting alleyway was a chilling sign that a massacre might have taken place.
Residents in the Fort National neighbourhood, which like most of Port-au-Prince’s slums is a bastion of support for former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, gathered around the darkening blood the following day.
Some of them say police officers wearing black hooded masks shot and killed 12 people, and then dragged their bodies away. Eliphete Joseph, a young man wearing a blue basketball jersey who claims to be a friend of several of the men who were killed last week, his eyes red with tears, said: "The police officers will say that this was an operation against gangs. But we are all innocent. The worst thing is that Aristide is now in exile in South Africa, but we are in Haiti, and they are persecuting us only because we live in a poor neighbourhood."
Two days later, in a nearby slum area known for its pro-Aristide militancy, residents said armed men dressed in police uniforms and black hooded masks executed four young men. The next day, their rotting bodies lay face down in the street covered in flies. Their wrists had been tied by shoelaces, and at least two had charred fingers, an indication they might have been tortured.
The killings appear to be the latest example of what human rights groups describe as a campaign of repression against supporters of Aristide, who was escorted out of the country on February 29 by US marines.
The US government says he resigned, while Aristide says he was forced out against his will in a coup d’tat.
Some Haitian and international human rights observers are beginning to make comparisons with the darkest days of the 1991 to 1994 military regime, and with the 1957 to 1986 dictatorship of Franois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’.
One difference, they say, is that the current government has received the blessing of the international community. Neither the US nor the United Nations, which has a peacekeeping force of more than 3,000 troops in Haiti, have censured abuses committed under the government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who took power in March.
Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said: "When 20 to 30 people were getting killed a year [under Aristide] there was a cascade of condemnation pouring down on the Aristide government. Now that as many as 20 to 30 are getting killed in a day, there is silence. It is an obvious double standard."
UN and Haitian officials deny government security forces are murdering opponents. Justice minister Bernard Gousse said: "The government is not violating people’s rights. We’ve made it clear to the police. We have to fight terrorists, but also protect the civilian population."
Gousse added that the government was investigating one case of an alleged human rights abuse committed by police.
Human rights observers in Haiti concede that it is difficult to document exactly how many people have been killed and by whom. There are myriad armed groups in the country, including some gangs that support Aristide and others that have shifting political allegiances.
However, according to Gerardo Ducos, who is leading an observation mission for Amnesty International in Haiti, Aristide’s backers have suffered the brunt of human rights violations since the change in government.
Renan Hedouville, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for the Respect of Individual Liberties, a group that was a loud critic of Aristide’s government for rights abuses, said: "A lot of us were hoping the human rights situation would improve after Aristide left. Now it is worse. The international community needs to condemn these abuses. If they don’t, they will be complicit."
Brazilian Juan Gabriel Valdes, who heads the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, said: "What we have seen in this country during the last month or two has been a resurgence of brutal violence organised probably in order to provoke a process of political destabilisation. Any state has the right to defend itself."
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