Haiti: Human Rights News Briefs
Over the last few weeks there have been some key developments in the broader political context in Haiti.
For a good overview of those developments, see the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s summary report of human rights concerns through the end of October. From the introduction of that report:
Widespread insecurity has gripped Haiti since our February 2020 Human Rights and Rule of Law in Haiti update. Local human rights organizations investigating the rise in violence have documented the involvement of police officers and state officials in numerous attacks against marginalized communities and raised credible concerns that gang violence is being deployed as a tool of political repression. At minimum, the government has failed to control violence that affects some of Haiti’s most marginalized communities. In addition, there are numerous reported incidents of government violence against protesters and the press; impunity for these and other human rights violations, due at least in part to the politicization of the judiciary, is pervasive. Such impunity leaves victims without recourse and is emboldening perpetrators.
To emphasize the current state of affairs, police responded to widespread protests on November 18 with extraordinary violence. Jake Johnston and Kira Paulemon of the Center for Economic Policy Research write:
The police response to the November 18 protests “demonstrated a blatant lack of professionalism,” wrote the human rights organization Fondasyon Je Klere [FJKL]. Street demonstrations were dispersed with tear gas, and, in some cases, with live ammunition. On the Champ de Mars, a young man was shot in the head. Eight others were admitted to area hospitals with bullet wounds. Nearby, a police vehicle rammed into a group of individuals sending at least two to the hospital with serious injuries — one eventually died due to the injuries sustained.
Video of the police vehicle hitting the protestors has been widely shared on social media and sparked outrage from civil society and human right groups. Lyonel Trouillot, a prominent Haitian author, published an op-ed criticizing the authoritarian use of the National Police by successive governments. He also noted the lack of interest from civil society groups in the international community. “It is shameful that a national call is not sent to international civil societies in the face of such acts […] for them to hold their representatives who might want to lend their support to a murderous regime, accountable,” he wrote.
The result of the day was conclusive, according to FJKL. “The PNH no longer considers the right to demonstrate as a democratic right.” Rather, FJKL continued, the police have become politicized and “[do] not act as a professional body responsible for ensuring the exercise of democratic rights.”
Amidst this concern, the government issued an executive decree on November 26 creating a new Agency of National Intelligence and limiting the rights of protestors under the banner of “public security.” There is enormous concern about the creation of this intelligence agency given the current context of human rights violations as well as the history of intelligence services in Haiti, which have been responsible for widespread human rights violations in the past.
Capturing some of these dynamics, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission held a thematic hearing on Haiti yesterday, December 10, featuring the testimony of Mario Joseph, Managing Director of BAI, Sonel Jean-Francois, Director of Judicial Inspection for the Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire, former Director of Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (Central Financial Intelligence Unit), Lionel Constant Bourgoin, Former prosecutor and former Director General for Unité de Lutte Contre la Corruption (Haiti’s Anti-Corruption Unit) and Alexandra V. Filippova, Senior Staff Attorney for Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Video from the hearing is not yet available from the IACHR, but for those in the Twitterverse you can review the conversation at these hashtags: #IACHRhearings #CIDH #Haiti
Finally, also yesterday, the U.S Treasury Department announced sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act (which empowers the Treasury to sanction individuals by seizing assets held in the U.S.) against Jimmy Cherizier, Fednel Monchery, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan for their involvement in the LaSaline massacre in November of 2018. From the Treasury Department Press release:
While serving as an HNP officer, Jimmy Cherizier (Cherizier) planned and participated in the 2018 La Saline attack. Cherizier is now one of Haiti’s most influential gang leaders and leads an alliance of nine Haitian gangs known as the “G9 alliance.” Throughout 2018 and 2019, Cherizier led armed groups in coordinated, brutal attacks in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. Most recently, in May 2020, Cherizier led armed gangs in a five-day attack in multiple Port-au-Prince neighborhoods in which civilians were killed and houses were set on fire.
Fednel Monchery (Monchery) was the Director General of the Ministry of the Interior and Local Authorities and, while serving in this role, participated in the planning of La Saline. Monchery supplied weapons and state vehicles to members of armed gangs who perpetrated the attack. Monchery also attended a meeting during which La Saline was planned and where weapons were distributed to the perpetrators of the attack.
Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan (Duplan), who was President Jovenel Moïse’s Departmental Delegate at the time of La Saline, is accused of being the “intellectual architect” and was seen discussing the attack with armed gang members in the La Saline neighborhood during the violence. Duplan provided firearms and HNP uniforms to armed gang members who participated in the killings. Duplan also attended a meeting during which La Saline was planned and where weapons were distributed to the perpetrators of the attack.
This move is almost certainly the result of advocacy by members of congress, especially Maxine Waters, who has continued to raise the issue of impunity in Haiti, using the La Saline massacre as a talking point, for the last couple of years. Waters has visited Haiti with human rights delegations several times.
What precise impact this will have on the individuals targeted is not clear, but the message, we hope, will be (and will remain) that there must be consequences for human rights violations in Haiti.