UN powerless as political prisoners waste away in Haiti?
May 4, 2006
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© 2005 Colin O'Connor Port au Prince, Haiti- 12/21/05 - "If ALL the prisoners in Haiti who have been arrested merely for their affiliation with Lavalas are not freed there are political prisoners in Haiti. I challenge Amnesty International and other respectable human rights organizations to begin to use the words, "political prisoners" or otherwise explain to the world why we are still behind bars. Why am I still behind bars? Explain this to us! Let us understand your reasoning that keeps us behind bars without ever having a fair day in court."

Annette Auguste - From my prison cell &hell - ZNet,18 June 2005

UN powerless as political prisoners waste away in Haiti?

by Kevin Pina and Desiree Wayne

On April 6, a UN human rights official in Haiti accused judicial authorities and the US-installed government of illegally imprisoning most of the four thousand people currently behind bars in the country. Among the political prisoners being held in Haiti are former Aristide officials and allies, such as Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, folk singer and activist Annette Auguste -- also known as So Ann -- and former interior minister Jocelerm Privert. Almost all of the four thousand prisoners in Haiti referred to by Thierry Faggart of the UN were arrested following the forced ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. Tom Griffin, attorney and human rights activist wrote to Flashpoints offering his reaction to the UN's recent revelations, quote: "Anyone interested in peace and justice for Haiti has to be overjoyed with the UN's detailed admission and strong condemnation of the interim government's unconstitutional prolonged detention of thousands, based solely on political grounds. But why did it take the UN more two years to issue this blockbuster condemnation?" End quote. Joining Flashpoints correspondent Kevin Pina to discuss the UN and human rights in Haiti is Desiree Wayne, a former prosecutor in Houston, Texas, and the current Chief Prosecutor for the International Tribunal on Haiti.

In Berkeley, I'm Nora Barrows-Freedman; you're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio.

[transcript courtesy of : Kevin Saliger]

Desiree Wayne: This is the second time the chief of the United Nations human rights mission in Haiti has accused the judicial officials of detaining, illegally, prisoners there. I mean there are almost four thousand people behind bars in Haiti, in what is being called a sort of preventive detention, where there are no charges being filed, there is no judicial process going on at all. What concerns me about Mr. Faggart's continuing criticism of the interim government is his inability to actually do anything. The United Nations has the power, we would hope, with their three thousand troops in Port-au-Prince, to do something about the fact that the Haitian National Police and the penitentiary are holding these people without charges. We have to see some action on behalf of the United Nations in order to alleviate the problem. [You] can not hold somebody in jail without charges or without any process for over two years.

Kevin Pina: Well you know what I don't understand, and maybe you can help myself and my listeners to understand, is that on one hand the United Nations clearly has the role of keeping the interim government -- we know that was a government that was selected through an unconstitutional process, basically through this Council of the Wise that was appointed by the United States government, basically selected by the United States government -- and the UN's role has really been to keep that government in power, at the same time having the role of ensuring public security and order. Do you think that the United Nations couldn't have possibly known that the judicial system was holding people for no other reason than their political affiliations and beliefs since the beginning of the United Nations mission?

Wayne: Of course, they must have known that these prisoners were being held for no other reason, and there are some allegations that the United Nations has even been complicit in, actually, their arrest and continued detention. We have had reports that the United Nations forces were bringing, providing transportation and acting at the behest of the Haitian National Police, and actually incarcerating some of these people. There've been people who have been arrested by the United Nations forces, brought to the Haitian National Penitentiary, left there, and the United Nations then washes there hands of the whole thing, saying that we have no authority to help, or to make sure that these people are treated fairly or justly. Well, I think that is turning a blind eye to a problem that you have created yourself. They can not continue to condemn and chastise the interim government with only words, when they ought to have the power and the ability to provide for some kind of a judicial mechanism to see that these people are put through some sort of process, that they are allowed some way to see in the future that their cases may be handled in some way.

Pina: Well it would be unrealistic to assume that maybe, if they were really serious about it, that they would at least at minimum consider stopping collaborating with the Haitian police by incarcerating, arresting individuals themselves, and turning them over to the PNH and the screw-up judiciary.

Wayne: They could stop their collaboration, but wouldn't it be better if the United Nations had the expertise, and they had people who have worldwide acclaim and are held in high esteem, like Thierry Faggart, who know how a judicial process ought to work? And wouldn't it be better, instead of removing themselves altogether, to provide some kind of a guidance, to provide some kind of assistance to the judiciary, or to create, or to help the Haitian people to create a judiciary that will provide some kind of a process? We can ask the United Nations to disengage, but if they have the resources and the expertise to provide the kind of guidance that would in the end give some help to these people, I think that the wholesale disengagement might not be the right thing.

Pina: Well, but isn't the response by the government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue -- within the same week of Faggart's announcement, Gerard Latortue, who of course was the US-backed, US-installed prime minister after Aristide's forced ouster, Latortue announced that there was going to be an investigation into the judiciary, and in fact had said that they were investigating reports that at least twenty judges and prosecutors had been taking bribes. So hasn't Faggart really begun this process of investigation, a real investigation now by the interim government into corruption by the judiciary?

Wayne: Let's hope so, and let's hope that an investigation into past corruption will lead to a process that will allow us to put in place a mechanism to help the people who are still being incarcerated. You know, we can look at these twenty judges and prosecutors, and perhaps they have taken bribes, and those reports have been widespread, numerous, and long on-going. It is not just since April 2006 that the Latortue government and the United Nations have had reports that judges and prosecutors were taking bribes in order to release people.

Pina: What about investigation into the opposite, which is into judges that have, for political motivations, been keeping people behind bars, because of their political affiliations and beliefs. I don't see that anywhere in Gerard Latortue and the Haitian government's announcement of this investigation.

Wayne: And at this point I believe that the interim government has no incentive to make that kind of allegation. We have to look at the timing of all of this. We have a supposedly lame-duck government headed out of office, and here in the waning days of his power Gerard Latortue is trying to, is announcing a commission to investigate these crimes that have been on-going throughout the length of his administration. We have to hope that this investigation of the judges and prosecutors taking bribes is the first step in correcting past injustices. And we also have to hope that they are not doing this in order to hamstring or to hold at bay any attempts by the incoming Preval government to correct these past injustices as well.

Pina: Now, Desiree, be honest with me. You of course are familiar with what's been going on in Haiti the last two years, you've been our Chief Prosecutor in the International Tribunal on Haiti, looking into the gross human rights violations that have been committed the last two years. Do you really think that the government of Gerard Latortue is capable of investigating itself in a transparent manner?

Wayne: At this point it's almost impossible to believe that that would be true. But we have to hold some hope that they will investigate themselves, and it will be transparent. But we have to watch very carefully, you know, you can look at the history of the Latortue government, and it is not one that has been elected by anybody for anything, they have no accountability, so they have no incentive to do anything. We're going to look at the Preval government and hope they will do better.

Pina: Well I think myself and a lot of people have been holding out hope for a long time that things will be better, and I think that you raised a fundamental question for us all, it is: at the end of the day, if there are political prisoners in Haiti -- we know there are political prisoners in Haiti -- and lives have been destroyed, and families have been separated -- who at the end of the day is going to pay for all of this? Is this just merely a question of reconciliation in Haiti, now that there is a new elected government, therefore we're just supposed to wash it under the rug, or can somebody really be held accountable for destroying these lives of people, for no other reason than their political beliefs and their political affiliations?

Wayne: We have to hope so. There are mechanisms in place, and there's the work of the International Tribunal on Haiti. We are going to continue to investigate past abuses and current abuses by the Latortue government, and we will continue to investigate abuses that go on in the future, because the problem of impunity is what allows this to continue. We have to hope that the light being shone on this problem from the United States and from, hopefully, other countries like Canada and France who have citizens who understand the role that their government has played, will be enough to show the Haitian people the way to move forward. And the way to move forward can not be just erasing history. We know that by moving forward we can institute democracy and gather democratic principles, but we can not do that if behind that is a history, a generation of people who have seen that democracy snatched away from their hands and they have no retribution, have seen no one pay. How that ends up playing itself out will be yet to be seen, and it's something for the Haitian people to determine that for themselves. I think there are many models we can look at. We have a truth and reconciliation type of process that has been installed in Haiti, we can look at the kinds of processes that have gone on in other countries like Cambodia, that have had these kinds of armed rebellions and destruction of institutions, to see what will work for the Haitian people. We'll have to see what the Haitian people decide will work for them.

Pina: I want to thank you. Today's guest again on Flashpoints has been Desiree Wayne. Desiree Wayne is a former prosecutor in Houston, Texas, she's currently practicing law in Colorado, and she's also the Chief Prosecutor for the International Tribunal on Haiti. Desiree Wayne, thank you so very much for you're time.

Wayne: Thank you for having me, Kevin.

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